According to the Michigan School Data
information database, 73,377 children between the grades of kindergarten and 12th grade were eligible for free lunch during the 2017-2018 fall school year in the state of Michigan. Eligibility for free lunch is dependent on the income of each family.
According local education professionals, for students who come from low-income families, school is sometimes their primary source of reliable nutrition, which is why programs like Meet Up to Eat Up
“...hunger doesn’t stop for the summer time, and basically, this is a bridged gap between meals that students may miss between the time school ends and starts back up in the fall,” says Grand Rapids Public Schools Director of Nutrition Services Phillip Green. “So this provides them an opportunity to receive some of the meals they would receive if they were in school.”
Meet Up to Eat Up is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Education, which allows kids who are 18 years old and under to receive free meals during the summer. The meals are served at various locations throughout Grand Rapids, typically providing breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday; however, there are some locations who provide meals on Friday as well. Their first service of summer was held Monday, June 11.
“We also work with a couple of different apartment complexes,” says program supervisor Erin Webley. “Sometimes kids can’t leave or go far from their homes because their parents or guardians are at work and they’re watching their younger siblings at home, so being able to go to their apartment complex office has been really helpful for parents because they know their kids are getting one to two meals a day and they don’t have to go far for safety reasons to get that.”
Outside of navigating the website, one way of identifying the nearest site where Meet Up to Eat Up is providing meals, is to text ‘food’ to 877877, then texting your zip code. It will then send a list of sites closest to that zip code.
Green says one of the greatest challenges they have is spreading awareness about the program so that more families are able to participate. He recalled a parent he met at one of the sites who not only brought her own children, but children she was watching for another parent as well.
Depending on each location and the day, Green says there could be 20 children or over 100 children who attend the program.
One of their long-term goals in the future is to purchase a food truck in order to be mobile with the summer program.
For more information, you can visit their website here