Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for kids who rely on school meals, but it doesn’t have to be. Last summer, as the need for meals was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, innovative flexibilities were implemented to allow organizations to serve more meals and reach families in need. This summer, programs across the country are working to continue this success and reach more kids than ever before.
In Cook County, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus is filling the gap and helping kids get the nutrition they need when schools are closed during the summer. Driving along three routes across the county three days a week, the Lunch Bus delivers thousands of meals to kids by eliminating a large barrier to accessing summer meals: transportation. “We meet the communities where they’re at,” said Melissa Lopez-Gomez, one of the summer AmeriCorps members responsible for operating the Lunch Bus. By driving directly to neighborhoods and distributing meals at libraries, parks, and faith-based institutions that children already know, there are fewer barriers to accessing nutritious summer meals.
This week, Lopez-Gomez and fellow AmeriCorps member Tabatha Merino drove the Lunch Bus to 6 stops in Western Cook County, serving over 200 boxes per distribution day. Each box contains two breakfasts and two lunches. With three distribution days, the Lunch Bus delivers about 2,400 meals per week on this route alone! In Cook County 12.3% of children experience food insecurity according to a 2020 Feeding America study. Programs like this are going above and beyond to support these hungry kids and continue feeding efforts when school is out of session. The Lunch Bus will continue until mid-August when schools resume in-person learning.
According to Lopez-Gomez, the Lunch Bus is conscious of systemic child hunger because the goal is to “actually see the numbers of hungry kids go down. In the long run, we don’t want to even have to offer this service.” Along with operating the Lunch Bus, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is investing in key policy efforts such as Child Nutrition Reauthorization and Summer-EBT, which would change the landscape of child hunger and make many of the free meal pandemic flexibilities permanent. According to No Kid Hungry, the summer of 2020 saw participation in summer meals programs increase by 160% thanks to these critical flexibilities. Through advocacy and direct service, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is making strides to end child hunger in Cook County and beyond!
If you are in need of free summer meals for children, text “Food” to 877-877 or visit summermealsillinois.org.