Cities Help Feed Kids in the Summer
By Colorado Municipal League staff
Partnering with the Local School District to Provide Healthy Summer Meals and Recreation
Summer break is revered as the best time of the year — carefree days without the daily grind of school. In reality, summer break can be a difficult time for many families, particularly those that rely on school meals to ensure that their children receive breakfast and lunch. And, let’s face it, most kids are bored by the end of the second week off!
For the past two summers, the City of Sterling and Valley RE-1 School District have worked together to provide summer meals for local children. Starting in 2016, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, kids under 18 were able to grab a healthy lunch at Prairie Park Snack Shack and Ayres Elementary School three days a week. While paperwork is necessary for families to participate in the free and reduced meal program offered at schools during the school year, any child can come to a summer lunch site, no matter the family’s income.
While it is one thing to offer summer meals, it can be quite another to get families to participate. Obstacles such as lack of transportation and awareness of the program can cause participation rates to be low, even in areas with many low-income families. This is where a municipal–school district partnership is key. The Sterling Park, Library, and Recreation Department worked with the school district to host the lunch program at one of the municipal parks that not only has a covered picnic area for shelter, but also includes a playground and outdoor swimming pool, making it an enticing place for kids and families. The second summer meal site, the elementary school, was chosen so that it overlapped with the summer school program that took place in July.
After seeing the success of the 2016 program, Sterling and Valley RE-1 School District added a fourth day to the 2017 summer meals program. An impressive 150 to 200 kids ate lunch each day throughout the summer.
Wade Gandee, Sterling Park, Library and Recreation Department direct, said that when the school district approached them, the City was happy to partner. “I think it is a great partnership between the city and the school district,” Gandee said, adding that it is nice for the kids to be able to sit and eat and then play on the playground or go to the pool.
Providing municipal resources to keep kids busy and active in a safe, supervised environment was a no-brainer for the City of Sterling and a clear step toward implementing their HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign goal of increasing access to healthy food and physical activity for youth in the community.
Free Summer Recreation and Meals for Kids in Underserved Area
In 2016, the City of Thornton allocated budget dollars to be used for free summer youth sports and recreation programs in areas where there are no public recreation centers for miles. This is an important and meaningful move by Thornton to begin to address the gap in access to healthy living. “The southwest portion of the city has been traditionally underserved in terms of recreation,” Jennie Christoffel, Thornton Preschool, Youth, and Teen coordinator, told The Denver Post in June.
To maximize the benefit of the program, the City of Thornton teamed up with Adams 12 Five Star Schools at two of the school district’s free summer meals locations. The cooperation between the City and the school district is a great example of local governments partnering to maximize programs to keep kids healthy, active, and well fed during the summer months. Further, the addition of recreation programs means that school-aged children in Thornton have an added incentive to visit the summer meals site.
The meals and sports programming are free of charge. Additionally, for a few dollars, parents can eat with their kids.
Program officials attribute the strategic pairing of opportunities to an uptick in attendance. At one of the sites where the sports programming is offered, up to 100 kids are participating daily.