When schools closed early in March, kids in need would have missed much-needed meals along the Central Gulf Coast. However, Feeding the Gulf Coast quickly sprang into action to organize and start their Summer Meals Program, a process that typically takes several months. With only three days to plan this year, Feeding the Gulf Coast started the program on March 19 so that kids in need in our area had a place to receive a healthy meal. To date, their child nutrition team has served over 100,000 meals in response to schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Each summer we operate the Summer Meals Program,” said Eugenie Sellier, Child Nutrition Programs Director at Feeding the Gulf Coast. The program typically kicks off at the end of May, but with schools closing early, we knew that we needed to quickly set up the program to ensure that children in need had access to meals. We are partnering with over 60 sites to provide 5,000 meals on a daily basis.”
This program will continue throughout the summer. Last year, the food bank served over 13,000 children through the Summer Meals Program.
Site partners have stated that the program has been a blessing for kids who might not receive meals without the program. “When the program began in March, we were excited to see how we might make an impact in our community by providing the drive-thru meals for hungry children,” said Bellview Assembly of God volunteer, Dianne Roark. “What a delightful surprise! Parents and grandparents drive through with grins, while the children in the back seat may be bouncing with joy to receive the snacks and lunches! I am touched by the sincere thank you’s from both the adults, and the little ones as they drive by to go home to eat the [meals provided through Feeding the Gulf Coast]. Thank you for letting us play a part in this much-needed intervention!”
Feeding the Gulf Coast received a grant to help support the program from No Kid Hungry, a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. According to their studies, 43% of low-income families say they have a harder time making ends meet during the summer. “With jobs and wages lost and school meals disappearing for millions of kids, families are shouldering much of the burden during the coronavirus pandemic. No Kid Hungry is proud to partner with Feeding the Gulf Coast to ensure kids can continue to get the nutrition they need during this ongoing crisis,” said Eleni Towns, Associate Director of No Kid Hungry.
No Kid Hungry runs a texting service to help parents and caregivers find free summer meal sites in their neighborhood. Parents and caregivers seeking meals for children, ages 18 and younger, can text the word “FOOD” (or “COMIDA”) to 877-877 to find emergency food distribution sites near them.
As families are faced with an increased need for food due to school closures, inability to work, or facing self-quarantine requirements, the “Find Help” feature available at www.feedingthegulfcoast.org is the best source of information for families and individuals seeking assistance. Individuals can also call (888) 704-FOOD.
During this time of uncertainty and crisis, Feeding the Gulf Coast remains dedicated to serving the community. Working with community partners, the food bank will continue to be an organization of hope and support for families facing hunger.