During the school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) provides lunch to more than 238,000 children who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch each and every day, according to the Food Research Action Center (FRAC).
Eighty-six percent of CPS students are from low-income families. During the summer, these children do not have the safety net of breakfast and lunch. Children, especially those from low-income families, are at a higher risk of both hunger and obesity during the summer months.
To ensure children continue to receive nutritious meals throughout the summer, CPS offers the Summer Food Service Program. The program provides free breakfast and lunch inside district schools to students attending summer programs, as well as to all community children ages 1-18, even those not currently enrolled in CPS.
But the program goes beyond that. CPS also operates small, mobile carts that provide free meals outside of CPS schools for any child younger than 18 through its LunchStop program. More than 40 of these carts will be out in force this summer Monday-Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., June 27 through Aug. 26. Food is not the only focus of LunchStop: At some locations, children can play games that help them learn about the importance of fruits and vegetables and receive helpful tips about how to stay fit over the summer. Last summer, LunchStop served more than 82,000 meals!
Funding for the program comes through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The program is administered at the state level by state education agencies like the Illinois State Board of Education and is sponsored locally by organizations such as schools, summer camps or community non-profits. These groups can provide free nutritious meals to children 18 and younger in communities where at least half of the resident families earn incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
The Chicago Food Depository is the lead organization in Chicago helping to coordinate the summer meals program locally. It works to increase the number of organizations to sponsor SFSP—one of the key program sponsors in CPS. The organization offers breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and supper at its sites—many of which are CPS schools.
In Chicago—and across the country—summer meal programs ensure that all students—regardless of race or socioeconomic status—can continue to eat healthy all summer long. You can access a summer meal site finder on the USDA’s website.