Summer Food Program

Feeding Bodies, Fueling Success

When the final school bells ring and summer break begins, millions of kids are at risk of going hungry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around 16.7 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the National School Lunch Program, but only 2.3 million of these kids continue to receive meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

As part of our commitment to keeping kids healthy, the Y and Walmart Foundation are partnering to provide 4.7 million meals and snacks to 200,000 kids and teens at 1,100 locations in communities throughout the nation this summer. Any child 18 and under can participate in the program to get their “fill of food and fun” —receiving nutritious meals and snacks, while also enjoying recreational and learning activities to keep their bodies and minds active.

Generously sponsored by Walmart


Join Us at an Open Site This Summer

Let's partner up to fuel your child's future through healthy meals, fun activities and new friends. Visit Find a Y or download a full list of participating locations to locate a summer food program open site in your community.

Join Us at a Summer Food Program Open Site

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Summer Food Blog

From preparing healthy meals to meeting new friends, YMCAs participating in this year's summer food program walk us through their thoughts and activities.  Join us for an exclusive, inside look at the summer food program from the very staff and volunteers running the program!

Have You Ever Eaten Purple Cauliflower?

by Stephanie Smith
Ozarks Regional YMCA (Springfield, MO)

posted on 8/13/15

This summer, the Ozarks Regional YMCA Summer Day Campers visited Fassnight Creek Farms, a favorite local farm here in Springfield, MO. Farmer Dan Bigbee welcomed over a hundred kids from the Ward Downtown YMCA program and took them on a guided farm tour, picking out food and handing out samples along the way.

This visit was an exciting opportunity for campers to connect to their food. All day, the campers were so excited to see the vegetables growing in the field! Eight year old day camper Tristyn (pictured) said, “Look, I have a whole salad here!”

Through the Ozarks Regional YMCA Year Round Food Program, children receive food from local farms twice a week for breakfast or lunch during the summer. When Farmer Dan asked the children if cauliflower could be any other color than white, the children shouted, “PURPLE!” They had recently eaten purple cauliflower from Fassnight Creek Farm. Farmer Dan was delighted, and the children loved seeing the food they eat growing in the field.

The Ozarks Regional YMCA will continue to serve local food from are farms for kids in our program to enjoy throughout the year.

Safe Space = Full Belly

by Tammy Roche
YMCA of Greater Erie (Erie, PA)

posted on 8/4/15

Recent neighborhood gun violence in Erie, Pennsylvania has all of us concerned on many levels.  Local kids are telling reporters they don’t feel safe to go outside and ride their bikes or hang out with their friends.  Who can blame them?

At its very basic level, the Y’s Meals for Kids program is providing healthy meals that some children otherwise would not receive.  But digging deeper, the Meals for Kids program is providing a safe place, full of caring adults. In today’s environment, that is just as important to the nearly 70 children eating dinner at the Martin Luther King (MLK) Center.

Kids as young as four and as old as 14 are under the watchful and caring eyes of YMCA and MLK staff, and it’s smiles and giggles all around.  The playground is the hub for basketball, and the gym is the hub for young girls skipping rope and singing “hand-claps”.

When their meal is served, the kids sit family style, forming a family of sorts among themselves, an element that they long for.  We serve chicken salad wraps, green beans and fruit salad.  The ladies are served first, then the boys.

I am struck immediately how it was food that brought the kids off the streets into this safe space—where for the time they are with us, kids can be kids.

Feed, partner, expand, repeat!

by Danielle Mauck
YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, FL)

posted on 8/3/15

With over 450,000 meals and snacks served last year alone at over 31 locations, it takes a small army of dedicated partners to help execute our meal programs.  Luckily, our community partners share in our mission to responsibly address hunger for our area’s most vulnerable children.

Thanks to our partners at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, we are excited to announce that in the first week of July, two of our open food sites were able to add a weekend pack-a-sack option for families in need of weekend assistance. 67 children signed up the first week for take home meals across two locations.

In addition, our friends at the Walmart Foundation help us to offer additional meals to our summer campers, including the addition of extra snacks and daily breakfast!

We don’t know about you, but we plan to do it all over again tomorrow!

My Food Comes From Where???

by Danielle Mauck
YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg (St. Petersburg, FL)

posted on 7/29/15

The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg loves to feed kids!  With over 450,000 meals and snacks served last year, our Y is always looking to step up our game and improve the quality of food and experience for our children.

This year, we are focused on creating a farm-to-table experience for youth in urban areas. Recently, over 80 kids from the Harbordale YMCA, ages preschool to eighth-grade, took a trip to Old McMicky’s Farm and learned just where their food starts. Children milked cows for fresh milk, tended the chickens and ate lunch by the lake.

Meanwhile, 40 campers from the Childs Park YMCA, pulled out their trowels and got a little creative, and maybe a just little dirty, planting, growing, preparing and eating some homemade salsa, peppers, okra and greens! Who says food can’t be fun?

It’s not just about gardening at the Y, it’s also about bringing the food home! Unique to the Childs Park YMCA is a branch of the public library inside the Y….and more unique still is that library houses a “Seed Library.” Through a partnership with the St. Petersburg Library Cooperative and the Childs Park YMCA, the public is welcome to a packet of seeds in each available category and is welcome to attend free gardening workshops hosted by the Y.

“Feed a child a meal, you feed them for a day.  Teach a child to garden, you feed them for a lifetime!”

Camp Baldwin-Phoenix Food Partnership

by Lauren Fuller
YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit (Detroit, MI)
posted on 7/23/15

The summer is off to a “fresh” start for 65 children in Pontiac thanks to Camp Baldwin-Phoenix.  The partnership between the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit and the Baldwin Center, an area human service agency, is in its 3rd year, allowing underserved students in Pontiac the opportunity to attend a seven week academic and enrichment program.  Enter the doors of Camp Baldwin-Phoenix, and you will be greeted with the sight of children discovering the joy of learning, working collaboratively, and engaging in a multitude of activities that are not available anywhere else in the community such as engineering, fine arts, cooking, creative writing and sports skill-building.  The growing partnership has allowed the Baldwin Center to hire qualified staff, support experiential learning days and launch new academic and enrichment initiatives.

One of the highlights of the camp is the onsite garden and greenhouse and the nutritious meals that utilize produce from the garden whenever possible.  Exceeding the requirements of the Summer Food Service Program, Camp Baldwin-Phoenix provides breakfast and lunch each day.  Campers are nourished with innovative offerings like grilled chicken salad and whole-grain pita pizzas.  Camper Jeremiah says, “I help get my younger siblings get ready in the morning to make sure we are here for breakfast.  The blueberry muffins and oranges are my favorite.“

Healthy meals and a healthy partnership ensure that all children involved in the program will be fueled and able to be their best self, while alleviating the stress many families feel during the summer months when school feeding programs discontinue.  In addition, this partnership allows for students to take part in cooking and CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Childhood Health) Nutrition lessons, where they learn how to utilize accessible foods to make healthy snacks alongside what foods help to fuel our bodies the best way!

Food Garden Teaches Kids About the Importance of Healthy Eating

by Lauren Fuller
YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit (Detroit, MI)
posted on 7/21/15

For the second year in a row, the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit is partnering with the Detroit Leadership Academy to provide our Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program, commonly known as Y Readers. This is also the second year that we have partnered with Wayne State’s FoodCorps to provide science and nutrition lessons utilizing the school’s garden.  Both the rising first and rising second- grade classes head out to the garden two times per week for a half hour lesson with Angela Hojnacki and Lauryn Hong, two volunteers from FoodCorps.

This past week, children learned about the six plant parts (root, stem, leaves, flower, fruit and seeds) by making a salad that contained an ingredient representing each part.  Radishes (root), spinach (leaves), red peppers (fruit) and nasturtium flowers were harvested right from the garden.  Celery (stem) and sunflower seeds were brought in to complete the salad.  The children helped prepare the salad and then were immediately able to enjoy it!

“Gardening is inherently fun,” said Food Corps volunteer Angela Hojnacki. Angela has been the main staple at the DLA garden since its inception and works with the students during the school year as well. “During the summer, things are growing and it’s amazing to see how things change so quickly from week to week.  Being in the garden allows for great learning opportunities and helps the students be active. They are also more likely to try foods that they harvest themselves. Every student tried the salad, and most said they liked it.”

The Y is dedicated to ensuring that kids in our communities have ongoing access to nutrition all year long—that means healthful meals and activities that support healthy decision making.  In order to strengthen our communities, we must help our kids grow to be healthy, active adults.  The Ys summer food programs are just one of the many ways we support youth from cradle to career!

Park and Play: Feeding more than our bodies

by Sarah Moore
YMCA of Grays Harbor (Hoquiam, WA)
posted on 7/14/15

The YMCA of Grays Harbor has partnered with the Aberdeen School District this summer to provide a strong program combining fun and food. This year our Park and Play program serves lunches to kids at three parks in town, serving anywhere between 50 to 150 lunches and snacks at each park each day.

It is obvious after only a few weeks of programming that there is a great need for food amongst these kids. Without these lunches, many of these children would go without food or without proper nutrition. However, I think there is a greater hunger than for food in our community: we hunger for community, for friendship and for opportunity.

After grabbing a lunch packed with a sandwich, fruit or veggie, some chips and milk, the kids grab a seat around the park, usually at a picnic table. With only a few picnic tables in the park, kids often end up eating with new friends. Conversation usually starts about what is in the lunch that day: what they like or don’t like or have never tried before. There may even be a proposed trade for an extra bag of chips.

But the food is only the starting point for finding commonalities amongst new friends as the conversations about food quickly evolve into what game or activity we will do after eating, or even details about life at home or school. Conversation continues as we bring out rubber bands to make bracelets, play dough or paint.

We cheer one another on through hula-hoop contests, hand games and running races. Through it all we are learning one another’s names, languages and stories. This is the greatest thing we have to offer at the parks.

After only a few weeks of Park and Play programming, I am convinced that these moments shared around the table and beyond are what keep the kids coming back to the park day after day and staying for the duration of the program. Yes—we are hungry for food, but the food speaks to a hunger that is deeper:  a hunger to be present with one another, to play, to laugh, to share and to build relationships. 

Where the Next Best Idea Will Come From

by Pam Suprenant
YMCA of Central Massachusetts (Worcester, MA)
posted on 7/7/15

I’m a firm believer in the saying “everything happens for a reason.” It’s usually for the best.

Our YMCA was in an interesting spot last winter: we were expanding our Food Program, adding more branches and sites, and following a thoughtful and thorough plan.  At the same time, we were sharing success stories with the local community and our board members while strategizing for the summer.

Through a series of fortunate coincidences, we discovered the local school district had a food truck delivering summer meals!  Was it possible they could deliver meals to our campers during the summer?  And if they could deliver lunch to one site, could they deliver breakfast and lunch to two sites? 

Our enthusiasm got the better of us, and we set off for answers with the help of a board member.  We quickly discovered our food needs would overwhelm the existing food truck.  Before we could be discouraged, however, the Worcester Public Schools suggested commissioning a second food truck to meet the demand.  Doing so would require many phone calls, meetings and lots of grant writing, but we were determined to make it happen.

Fast forward to last week when school (finally!) finished and camp began.  Twice daily, the food truck rolls up to the YMCA and children line up for their breakfast and lunch. While we are thrilled to be providing healthy meals, they think it’s the coolest thing to “eat out of a food truck.”

The moral of this story—beyond do whatever it takes to feed kids whenever and wherever you can—is that you never know where the next best idea will come from.  Share your story—tell people your YMCA feeds kids, and magic will happen.

Empowering Youth

by Robert Calvillo
YMCA of Greater San Antonio (San Antonio, TX)
posted on 7/2/15

“Traditional”, “historical” and “generational” are a few words to describe the community in the Westside of San Antonio. A one mile stretch of road along Brazos Street serves as the hub of services for families living in the Alazan Courts, one of the first and largest public housing complexes in San Antonio. Youth growing up in this community attend elementary, middle school and high school at the campuses located on Brazos Street just steps from one another.  In the center of this neighborhood is the Alazan Community Center, to which the YMCA of Greater San Antonio has provided consistent services over the previous six years.  A large population that goes underserved in this community are teenagers and college-bound youth.

Nutrition is a component that goes beyond program participation. A hot meal at lunchtime and a healthy snack in the afternoon are free to all program participants and all youth community members.  Along with nourishment, enrichment is this focus for this summer programing. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) with an emphasis on health education, higher education and service to others are also incorporated into the daily schedule.

In partnership with Texas A&M, teens learn how to write computer code that will ultimately control a robot that is located miles up in space at the International Space Station. The teens spend three hours per day practicing by writing code in a trial-and-error method to see if their code is progressing. The end result will be in August, when the Alazan Robotics Club competes against other youth from across the country at NASA in Houston, Texas.  Through this partnership, teens are literally exploring the final frontier and breaking beyond that one-mile radius.

Through support of Texas A&M, Walmart Foundation, United Way and the City of San Antonio, lunches, snack and programing are free to residents in the Alazan Courts.

The Beginning

by Robert Calvillo
YMCA of Greater San Antonio (San Antonio, TX)
posted on 6/30/15

Out of school time in the summer is usually seen as vacation and fun time for youth. No alarm clocks ringing before the sun rises, no homework assignments filling their evening hours and no weekly quizzes building up anxiety week after week. However, summer time also means a disruption of daily and weekly routines established throughout the school year for parents. This also includes the security of receiving a nutritional meal during the school day.

At the Davis-Scott Family YMCA in San Antonio, Texas, the leadership team recognizes the need to provide enrichment and nutrition to families whose routine is disrupted during the summer when school is not in session. Youth Express and Teen & Enrichment programs provide opportunities for youth 2-18 years old to receive a hot meal and snack daily, as well as participate in a variety of activities that promote literacy, physical activity and health education.

Youth Express and Teen & Enrichment programs are free to families in the Davis-Scott community and rehabilitates daily routines. With only a few weeks into summer, both programs combined are providing services to 277 youth.  The YMCA of Greater San Antonio receives support from United Way, the Eastside Promise Neighborhood and the Walmart Foundation to make programs like these free and accessible to families at the Davis-Scott Family YMCA.

No Swimming And Eating!

by Jackie Grant
YMCA of Roanoke Valley (Roanoke, VA)
posted on 6/28/15

At least that’s what your mother always told you, right? Well, these kids got both at once!

As part of our YMCA’s summer feeding program, each Friday we feed children at a local community pool called Washington Park in Roanoke, Virginia. The YMCA of Roanoke Valley gave healthy lunches to 75 children, and then the children had an opportunity to swim for free.

The YMCA of Roanoke Valley manages the city pool on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer, and allows the neighborhood children to visit even if they don’t have the $3.00 entrance fee.

In addition to Y staff, the Roanoke City Police Department also came out to serve the youth lunch. It was a great opportunity, mostly because it allowed the students to make a positive connection with their local authority and to view police as friends. The police officers passed out badge stickers to any child that wanted to “join the force.”

Can you even imagine 75 students being served by their local police force? We are hoping to make more connections like this in the future. Now you can tell your mom that food and swimming does actually work together!

The Beginning

by Jackie Grant
YMCA of Roanoke Valley (Roanoke, VA)
posted on 6/26/15

It was amazing to see.

The kids were all sitting down at their tables. Some kids opened their milk first, while others decided they would rather have some broccoli with ranch dressing. Some, on the other hand, reached for the tuna sandwich. Either way, these kids all had one thing in common: they were each receiving a free healthy meal that they may not have had if they didn’t come to the library. That was day one of our YMCA of Roanoke Valley’s anti-hunger initiative. 

This summer, five public libraries in Roanoke, Virginia in collaboration with the YMCA of Roanoke Valley are offering a summer feeding and reading program. The youth that come not only receive a nutritious meal, but also have an opportunity for enrichment, as they participate in reading and other fun activities.

Today, the students at one site enjoyed making play dough using detergent booster, food coloring and glue. It was a sticky situation at first, but it turned out well as each child can happily display their creation.

Being able to feed and read is a huge asset, in that it not only gives the youth an opportunity to receive a nutritious meal, but it also allows youth to increase their knowledge through fun and interactive activities.

Did I mention that the kids enjoyed it?

Good, just making sure. We are glad to be able to serve the youth in Roanoke. And to think, this is only day one….

Where there is a will, There is a Y!

by Ricky Wright
YMCA of Lansing (Lansing, MI)
posted on 6/24/15

One of the great parts about working for the YMCA of Lansing is seeing the impact we have in our local communities.  Making that impact starts with the ability to recognize the need.  In Lansing, Michigan, our YMCA has made it a priority to offer enrichment activities and year round food programs to the pockets of our communities that need it most. 

After some careful consideration, we realized as an organization we were uniquely qualified to reach a growing population—refugees who are newly-settled to the Lansing area. The program began at our Downtown Wellness location, right in the heart of downtown Lansing.

The goal for the program is to give refugee parents the tools needed to be advocates to help their children succeed in Lansing, and to teach the family unit basic understanding of societal norms.  The program provides acculturation, not assimilation.  Participants in the program complete a pre and post-survey that measures their views on their acclimation to American cultural norms, according to each of the topics presented in the curriculum, and their ability to confidently address their children’s needs. 

Long-term, we believe the program will help parents build skills to obtain jobs, advocate for their children’s education and maintain a healthy, happy home life.     

As the program began, we recognized that many of the families were living well below the poverty level and were not experiencing healthy and nutritious meals or snacks on a daily basis.  The Y began providing meals to these families as part of the classes and then expanded into serving these meals in the apartment complex where they primarily lived.  Having recognized that access to adequate nutrition was an issue (i.e. transportation) we moved the meals to them. 

This has led to the creation of the very first YMCA of Lansing mobile kitchen, set to roll out in July of 2015.  This “kitchen” has been very generously donated by our areas largest transportation company and strong community advocate. We cannot wait to see the impact that our rolling kitchen will make in community pockets all over Lansing, the Tri County area and even Central Michigan!  Our resident camp, Mystic Lake YMCA Camp, is located 100 miles north of Lansing, and we plan to take our kitchen on the road.

"Happy Cow" and "Sad Cow"!

by Renea Wood
The YMCA of Klamath Falls (Klamath Falls, OR)
posted on 6/18/15

Hurrying through our process of cost-effective, efficient foods in our Year Round Food Programs, we seldom slow down and really reflect on how we can make food more attractive to kids.  We often miss the big picture: what can we do to encourage kids to eat?  Sometime a little more prep time and a little salesmanship can make all the difference.

At our YMCA, we have learned that sometimes it’s all in the presentation and sometimes it's how you sell it.  We’ve mixed things up by placing peanut butter on spoons or in a dipping cups so kids can eat it how they want.  We’ve even been known to make butterflies out of cheese.  But the most important thing we have learned with preschoolers is talking about the cow that worked hard on making the milk encourages milk drinking. 

Our head Preschool Teacher has developed the “Happy Cow” and “Sad Cow” meal time.  She realized that the image of a happy cow on the carton of milk was frowning at her when she dumped out large amounts of remaining milk.   She started talking more about the hard working cow that makes delicious milk to help build strong kids. 

Happy Cow = most of the milk was drank by the child
Sad Cow = a lot of milk remained in the milk carton

As she drains the remaining milk of each child’s carton, she engages the whole lunch group so everyone can get excited when there is a Happy Cow in the group and be sad when there is a Sad Cow in the bunch. Milk consumption shot up after the introduction of Happy Cow.  Now everyone gets excited at the end of lunch time, waiting to see how many Happy Cows there are in the room.

Try “Happy Cow” with your kids this year, and you too can have a Happy Cow Summer!

Community Collaborations Are the Key!

by Renea Wood
The YMCA of Klamath Falls (Klamath Falls, OR)
posted on 6/15/15

In the past, childhood hunger in our county has been handled piecemeal by various nonprofits. As a result, no single entity has been held accountable to ensure that no kid goes hungry...

Until now.  Klamath Basin Summer Food Program Coalition is committed to ending childhood hunger in Klamath County, and we’re rallying and uniting the various organizations and entities needed to make this a reality.

While there are many of campaigns nationwide, we work on a local level through county-based partnerships to empower existing local organizations. These sustainable partnerships are fighting childhood hunger in our county.  For the first time, we’re working together with the best of the best to end childhood hunger—together.

The three summer food site sponsors are at the table to unite together to promote all summer food sites.  The Klamath Basin Summer Food Program Coalition plans to unite survey strategies, review youth attendance barriers and create strategies for success for the following summer of 2016.  The Coalition will have the help of an Oregon Institute of Technology extern who will assemble research about Klamath County and its hungry youth.  This data will combine with the site surveys to better help the Coalition to make a stronger impact on next summer’s food programs.

Due to its effectiveness via shared vision, Community Collaboration is the only way we can have an impact to make sure no kids goes hungry, period.

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The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.