Every day during the school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) provides lunch to more than 234,000 children who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch, according to the Food Research Action Center (FRAC). These children are most at-risk for not receiving nutritious meals outside of school, as well as for eating unhealthy food that can lead to summer weight gain. Research shows that summer weight gain is particularly acute for three at-risk subgroups: black children, Latino children and children who were already overweight at the beginning of kindergarten.
To fill the gap and to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals throughout the summer months, 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. You can see a full list of these locations here.
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. Forty of these carts will be out in force this summer Monday-Friday, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., June 29 through Aug. 28. You can see a full map of the LunchStop locations here. 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.
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.
Throughout the country, the number of summer meals served increased 11 million from the previous summer, bringing the total number of summer meals served to 187 million at more than 50,000 summer meal sites. This is the program’s 40th anniversary, and the USDA wants to serve an additional 13 million meals this summer.
“For 40 years, USDA has supported summer meal programs that keep children in low-income communities active and engaged when school is out, while providing critical nutrition and reducing the learning loss that often occurs during the summer months,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In Chicago — and across the country — the summer meals programs ensures that all students — regardless of race or socioeconomic status — can continue to eat healthy all summer long. You can learn more about this important program here.