Summer meal program hits Inver Grove Heights

As summer break approaches, lower income families may struggle to put more meals on the table for children who aren’t at school.

A solution is in the works, as South St. Paul, West St Paul and Inver Grove Heights schools will all be participating in the Summer Food Service Program, where all attending children 18 and under will be provided with a free meal. It includes an event that will take place at Hilltop Elementary School in Inver Grove Heights, and will feature a three-meal program as part of the process.

Children who attend Hilltop Elementary, and qualify, will have access to meals, but the event is open for anyone under the age of 18.

“(It) makes sure it’s getting students who are low income, but also other people in the area that would need it,” said Keith Hovas, deputy communications director of the Minnesota Department of Education.

The goal of the program is to get their programs into areas with a U.S. Census-eligible number of low-income families.

Without the program, parents have to turn to other resources, says Jenny Butcher, Minnesota’s Summer Food Service coordinator. 

“There might be a lot of extra strain on the food shelves in the area,” she said. “I know the food shelf in South St. Paul has been very supportive in getting things moving.”

Statewide, the group acquired 149 sponsors in over 625 sites, and served almost 2.4 million meals.

Still, Butcher says she’s worried about spreading the word.

“Often times, families don’t know these meals are available.”

Federal funding covers the costs to prepare the meals and to administer the program. Last year, the funding was for a total of $6.6 million.

Selection for sites depends on a number of factors, including the U.S. Census data, as well as school-provided data, to determine income among families.

Still, food isn’t the only goal.

Extra programs

“Its goal is to bridge the nutrition gap over the summer, and we hope that it combines with educational and recreational activities,” Butcher said.

Other aspects help bridge the “summer gap” in learning, she explained. “We want to keep them engaged (and) involved to make sure that they’re ready once fall comes around.”

In Minnesota during summer 2013, almost 150 schools and groups operated more than 630 program sites, serving almost 2.4 million meals to children 18 and under, according to federal figures. Still, only 15 percent of impoverished children are reached with these meals.

The Summer Food Service Program was founded nationally in 1968 (then called the Special Food Service Program). The program provided grants to states to help provide meals to children when school was not in session.

At the time, there were two separate parts of the program: child care and summer food service. In 1975, the two split into separate entities, paving the way for the program to take its current form. 

Tim Faklis can be reached at 651-748-7814 or at


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