Operation Food Search launches Summer Food Service Program
Operation Food Search launches Summer Food Service Program to help feed children during the months when they are out of school and most vulnerable.
Many children are attending a local area camp this summer or they are fortunate to enjoy an out of town vacation with their parents. However, for many other parents, those are expenses they cannot afford. More importantly, many parents have difficulty handling an increased food budget due to the summer break from school.
A nonprofit hunger relief organization, Operation Food Search (OFS), is currently providing a remedy to both the shortage of food for children and lack of some activities. On June 4, OFS and area partners launched the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). SFSP is funded by the USDA and feeds children 18 years of age and younger. The program runs until Aug. 11. OFS has a goal to serve 100,000 meals this summer.
Meals are provided every day except Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Saturday service is an additional service for 2018. OFS launched its first SFSP in 2012 at a single location and served 5,000 meals to children. In 2016 they added the mobile meals concept which increased the access to healthy food. Executive Director Sunny Schaefer shared that there was an assessment conducted to determine what service was needed.
“One of the barriers for the children in getting the meals is transportation,” Schaefer stated. “So, by using the mobile meals we can take it right into the neighborhoods where there is high need.”
At the June 4 kickoff, 35 stationary sites were presented as well as 28 mobile sites. OFS hires staff during the summer months to provide the mobile service. The stationary sites include nine St. Louis County libraries and various partnering locations. The mobile sites include five St. Louis Public libraries, various parks and other locations. For details text ‘FOOD’ to 877-877 or visit: www.operationfoodsearch.org/summer-meals-locations.
For free summer activities and enrichment, Schaefer shared that there will also be age-appropriate reading books for children, arts and crafts, games, kickball, various athletic activities and STEM projects. Both stationary and mobile participants will be able to take part in these offerings at the participating food service locations. AmeriCorps volunteers will provide educational interaction and entertaining activities.
Through an offering of the St. Louis Reading Council, children will be allowed to select a book of their very own each time they visit the Food & Fun Club. The St. Louis Daily Council is providing educational materials for children to take home each day. Vroom, a program of the Lume Institute, will focus on learning opportunities for children five and under.
Each Friday, families can expect a pop-up along the mobile routes called the Food & Family Fun Club. At these pop-ups, shelf-stable family meal kits will be distributed to parents in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables. The pop-up will also include a cooking demonstration and recipe tasting conducted by OFS’ nutrition team highlighting the produce that is distributed for the day.
Schaefer stated, “We offer a one-step solution for organizations to focus on what they do best while we provide the outreach, educational services and vendors to provide food. This program complements our mission to end childhood hunger and combat the toxic stress that threatens our area’s youth, and we look forward to serving our communities during the upcoming summer.”
OFS, founded in 1981, has a strategic focus aimed at ending childhood hunger that empowers families with a range of programs and services to reduce what has become termed as “food insecurity” and increase access to healthy and affordable food. At their kickoff to the SFSP on June 4, Child and Family Nutrition Director, Brian Wieher and Community Engagement Director, Trina Ragain shared with attendees the wide spectrum of their programs to serve their vision throughout the year. OFS provides after school meals during the school year as well as conducts their “Operation Backpack.”
Wieher shared that the schools decide via application whether they desire to participate in the weekend backpack program. At the school level, determination is made regarding which students will receive the service.
“We would talk to you,” stated Wieher, “and determine how many bags you need each week, how we would get them to you [or] how you would get them.”
Other programs shared by Ragain were: the six-week nutrition education course which trains others to provide the demos at their own facility, emergency food distribution in which $30 million worth of donated food is dispersed through partnership with pantries and meal programs, a fresh food prescription program for expecting and new mothers in collaboration with Missouri Baptist Medical Center, the Breakfast in the Classroom program funded by the Walmart Foundation and their advocacy to prevent a decrease in SNAP for families with school age children. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Wieher stressed the importance of the public’s awareness that what OFS is providing in collaboration with partners, especially for the current SFSP is available to all children.
“One thing that gets lost in a lot of this is that at any location where food is available it’s available to any child 18 or under. It doesn’t matter their background, where they live, their socio-economic status…if food is available it’s available to anyone and everyone.”
Operation Food Search’s headquarters is located at 1644 Lotsie Blvd. in St. Louis. For more information, call 314-726-5355 or visit http://www.OperationFoodSearch.org.
CUTLINE: Submitted photos On June 4, Operation Food Search (OFS) and area partners launched the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). SFSP is funded by the USDA and feeds children 18 years of age and younger. OFS has a goal to serve 100,000 meals this summer.
By Charlotte Beard