by Abby Stainer, Regional Program Manager
The Oklahoma Childhood Food Security Coalition’s 2022 Summer Meals Kickoff is officially in the books. Thank you to all participants and presenters! The educational and inspiring four-part virtual series took place on the fourth Thursday of the month from January through April, averaging more than 60 attendants per session from various organizations across the state, including state and local government, tribal nations, parks departments, libraries, schools, food banks, food service, and non-profit organizations.
The series began in January with a celebration of last year’s achievements, including a video message from Jennifer Weber, the Executive Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, where she shared that through the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option, more than 20 million meals and snacks were served in 2021. The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, Tulsa Public Schools, and Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma were each highlighted as Summer Meal sponsors, sharing their lessons and successes from the previous year.
February’s session featured an advocacy update from Hunger Free Oklahoma’s Director of Government Relations and Public Policy, Jessica Dietrich, and gave participants an opportunity to choose between learning about the Summer Meal sponsor application process or how to engage volunteers for their Summer Meal sites. In the sponsors application breakout room, Devin Schroeder, Senior Manager of Programs for Hunger Free Oklahoma, engaged prospective and existing Summer Meal sponsors in a discussion on the application process and timeline. The engaging volunteers breakout room included presentations by Jenni Klufa, Extension State Specialist for OSU Community Nutrition Education Programs, and Rafael Gonzalez, AmeriCorps Partnership Manager for Equal Heart.
The third session, held in March, addressed the prospect of important Summer Meal program waivers expiring, including plans for story-centric advocacy and community partnerships to reach more children and teens. The Community Partnerships in Action panel discussion held during this session featured Caity King from Noble County Family YMCA, Tina Cavin from Blackwell Library, Eric Chavarria from Choctaw Nation, and Lyndsey Speer from YMCA of Greater OKC. Each speaker highlighted the impact of building partnerships and increasing access to meals and programs in their service areas.
The final session, held at the end of April, explored strategies to get kids to Summer Meal sites and activities to keep them coming back. The activities and programming section included insights from Jaziel Hiriart from Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning and Theri Ray from Enid Public Library, while Hilary Brookins from Chickasaw Nation and Keili McEwen, Hunger Free Oklahoma’s new Director of Strategic Advancement, spoke on outreach strategies for increasing Summer Meal awareness. To wrap up the kickoff, Devin Schroeder presented an overview of the series at Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) webinar, Summer Meals: Mitigating the Impact of the Loss of the Summer Nutrition Waivers, the same day.
Again, thank you to all partners and attendees for making this year’s kickoff so successful and to all Summer Meal sites and sponsors for overcoming the ever-changing challenges and meeting your communities’ needs to prevent summer learning loss and make sure kids are fed.
As you all know, there is little time to rest in this work, so we are excited to announce our plans for an IN-PERSON Summer Meals Kickoff in early 2023. We need your input, though, to make next year’s event the best one yet. Please click here to fill out a survey and help us get our planning underway!