Millions of low-income children will lose access to breakfasts, lunches, and snacks during the summer when school is not in session. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), only 1 in 6 low-income children who ate school lunch during the 2014-2015 school year were reached by Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2015.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded, state-administered program that provides nutritious meals to children in low-income areas during the months when school is not in session. SFSP serves free meals to children and teens ages 18 and younger.
It is one of the most underutilized government programs. According to FRAC, for every lunch that an eligible child does not receive, states and communities miss out on more than $3.50 per child in federal SFSP funding. That can mean hundreds of millions of unused dollars and five million or more unfed children.
SFSP Promotion Strategies
It is important to promote the Summer Food Service Program in your area in order to maximize the number of children served. We’ve created some strategies that will help you to inform and excite your community.
- Gather a group of volunteers and coordinate blitz days to raise awareness and go into the community to educate people about the program. Word of mouth from concerned parents in the community is a great way to inform people of the SFSP in your area. Local high school sports teams are also great volunteers. If high school students support and participate in the program, the younger children may be more inclined to participate as well.
- Create informational flyers and distribute them to parents and children during the last week of school. Many times parents are unaware that this program is available at no cost. Have volunteers distribute the flyers to parents who are picking their children up from school and have teachers distribute the flyers to students to share with their parents.
- Send a press release to local newspapers and media. Press releases are a great way to reach multiple audiences. Sharing your newsworthy Summer Food Service Program story with local newspapers, radio stations, magazines, and television stations is a great way to generate buzz about your program.
- Make your site stand out by serving meals on weekends. Funding is provided for meals served at eligible sites on anyday of the week. Most summer programs only offer meals Monday through Friday, so offering meals on weekends would make your SFSP stand out. Consider advertising weekends as family days and allow parents to participate in the activities.
- Schedule a neighborhood kick-off party to generate interest in the launch of the program. Children are more likely to participate in your SFSP if their friends are participating. Adversiting the first day of SFSP meals as a summer kick-off party will entice more people to attend.
- Have a bring-a-buddy day. Word of mouth is a great way to involve more children. Notify the children of upcoming "buddy days" where they are encouraged to bring a friend. Offer prizes or some sort of incentive to those who actually bring a friend. Once the friends attend, encourage them to return.
Marketing the Summer Food Service Programs in your area can be time consuming, so we created a customizable press release and flyer, as well as a tip sheet for parents/guardians. To download these marketing materials, click here.
SFSP Success Stories
Successful Summer Food Service Program expansion involves intense planning and coordination efforts from the community. We’ve put together a couple success stories from other summer programs. These are excellent examples of using promotional strategies to help increase child participation.
- Break for a Plate in Alabama is a successful multimedia campaign. The Alabama Department of Education partnered with a design firm to develop a website, logos, advertisements, billboards, yard signs, and other marketing materials. The Break for a Plate campaign significantly increased sites, sponsors, and child participation in Alabama. What you can do: Just like the Break for a Plate campaign, you can use marketing materials to promote your summer program. Creating a unified theme across all marketing platforms made Alabama's campaign successful and memorable. Try to make your marketing materials look unified so that people can easily recognize them. Utilize multiple media forms to spread the word, including handing out flyers outside schools and grocery stores, creating yard signs and placing them throughout the community, and forming partnerships with the local media.
- Browning, Montana uses a food truck with oversized pictures of fruits and vegetables on the outside along with the tagline "Kids Eat Here Free". Music blasts from the speakers sitting on the cab of the truck so children know that healthy meals have arrived. An awning and picnic tables fold out from one side of the truck. Incorporating a food truck that made multiple stops improved the child turnout in Browning. Before the mobile feeding model, children had to cross many busy streets to get to summer program sites, which their parents felt uncomfortable with or did not allow. What you can do: If you are located in a rural, urban, or suburban area, the mobile feeding model may work best for you. It eliminates the stress of children crossing busy streets, while providing them with healthy meals. Schedule a community meeting and discuss this option with parents in the area. It takes some planning to get the mobile feeding model up and running, but once everything is in place, the amount of children fed will increase. Try to incorporate music on your truck as this generates excitement (think ice-cream truck!).
Sponsors may prepare their own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or partner with a vendor. Sponsors will only be reimbursed if the meals they are serving meet federal nutritional guidelines, so we suggest partnering with a food service company.
GA Foods offers frozen and shelf-stable meals that are perfect for summer programs. SchoolFuelTM, our frozen meals for kids, are compliant with federal NSLP and CACFP requirements. They can be delivered frozen, or hot and fresh daily. Super PowerPackTM, our shelf-stable meals, are CACFP and SFSP-compliant. These pre-packaged meals require no kitchen and little to no preparation.
Both SchoolFuelTM and Super PowerPackTM meals take the stress of nutrition planning off your plate. They come in fun packaging and kids love the taste! Contact our experts to learn more about menu options.