Building Community through Summer Meals and Enrichment

posted on Wed, Jan 25 2017 8:00 am by Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships

Welcome to our first blog post of 2017.

Most of the country is grey and chilly, so let's talk about summer.

A time for creating memories in the sun, summers can be challenging for families.

According to No Kid Hungry,

“Research shows that family grocery costs rise more than $300 a month when school is out and school meals disappear, putting a strain on already-tight budgets. That leaves many families making tough trade-offs; two-thirds of all low-income families say they’ve had to choose between food and utilities, two-thirds also had to choose between food and medical care.”

I found those statistics shocking. What about you?

We all can support families and communities by strengthening summer meal programs. Summer meals play an important role in helping families make-ends-meet and they also help children succeed during the school year.

Parents and teachers agree that summer learning is important. According to the Afterschool Alliance, 73% of parents say it is important for their children to have summer activities that help them learn. Did you know that 9 in 10 teachers spend at least 3 weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the school year?

Here are 6 strategies to help you engage families, communities and local businesses through summer meals and enrichment. Do you have tips or a story to share? E-mail me.

1. Engage Siblings

Summer means more free time for children, but working parents might have even less time. Especially as they balance schedules and transportation. To support families, create a sibling engagement plan as part of your summer meal program. Start by encouraging siblings to attend your summer meal program together. Provide programmatic activities for all ages and use prompts and conversation starters to make the time fun and intentional.

2. Link Outdoor Time with Social Media

Kids love social media and too often screen time keeps kids from taking advantage of the many benefits of getting outdoors. With increasing numbers of students reporting being bored and stressed, there has never been a better time to find creative ways to integrate outdoor time into your summer meal program. Host a group photography walk in your local park or school garden. We live in an Instagram and Snapchat world, so find opportunities to link your outdoor adventures with social media for even more promotion.

3. Make Summer Meals a Community-Building Event

Standing in line for summer meals or taking public transportation to a meals site can carry a negative stigma. Reduce it by making your summer meals site a community gathering place, whether kids come for healthy food or an afternoon field day. Holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July are great milestones to bridge regular summer meal programming with community celebrations. 

4. Go Where Kids Go to Promote Your Program

Team up with communities of faith and businesses that kids frequent. Ask local Vacation Bible School programs to encourage children to attend your summer meal program. Attach your promotional materials to relevant MyPlate tip sheets to send simple messages home as you encourage attendance. Library computer labs, laundromats and convenience stores can help get the word out too. Why not host a poster contest or community mural project to engage the local creative community?

5. Give Staff and Volunteers a Plan

Don't wait until the last minute. Emphasize summer during your springtime trainings. Daily challenges, games and printable plans are essential tools to help staff and volunteers have ready-to-use enrichment activities. Build staff confidence by providing plenty of options. Create your own list of rainy day back-pocket activities for poor air quality days and when it’s too hot to go outside.

6. Support Local Business and Build Momentum

Ask local businesses to help with donations, promotion or even transportation. Would your local clinic provide transportation for community members to attend summer meal events? Would your local automotive or bike store provide free tune-ups for teens? Whether it’s a raffle for a skateboard or free haircuts, find opportunities to support local businesses and engage them in your work.

What can you do this spring to make this your most collaborative summer yet?

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Looking for more resources?

Don't miss our upcoming professional development events this spring. If you're short on time, listen to one of our short podcasts for easy to use tips.

Not sure where to start? Give us at call: 888-KID-HLTH