United Way of King County announced this week that it is launching its Free Summer Meals service for children and youth across King County.

Additionally, this year the organization is partnering closely with Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to support Free Summer Meals providers statewide to maximize the impact of programs in their communities, too.

Sara Seelmeyer, food security program manager at United Way of King County, said hunger was an issue before COVID-19, but the pandemic exacerbated the food insecurity that continues today. The crisis has disproportionately increased food insecurity of Black, Indigenous and other people of color.

“Kids in low-income families benefit from and rely on free and reduced-price school meals program during the school year,” said Seelmeyer. “Summer can be an uncertain time for low-income families who rely on these programs because that resource isn’t available. The Free Summer Meals program is designed to help ensure kids have the fuel they need during the summer months. It brings nutrition into the communities where kids are living and playing in the summer.”

Seelmeyer said families end up spending over $300 extra per month in groceries during the summer to feed their children.

The program is an underutilized resource across Washington. Historically, less than 15% of school-aged youth who access free and reduced-price meals during the school year also access summer meals statewide. Last summer, just 19% of all youth in the state who qualified for free and reduced-price meals accessed Free Summer Meals.

Over 10,000 children and adolescents receive free meals per day over the summer in King County in a typical year. In 2020, during one of the peaks of the pandemic, that number tripled to 30,000 students daily.

The Free Summer Meals sites are located at community centers, public parks, schools and other locations. In King County, they are operated by a team of dedicated AmeriCorps VISTAS, some of whom also provide home delivery services to families at affordable housing complexes. Delivery service will be provided at more than 25 King County housing locations.

To find the closest meal site, families can access United Way’s Free Summer Meals page. They can also text the word “SUMMER,” or “VERANO” for Spanish, to 97779.

Funding for Free Summer Meals comes from OSPI, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, No Kid Hungry, and the Kellogg Company.

Scott Schaefer

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