Free and reduced-cost lunches are out there in the summer; awareness and logistics are key

USDA-led effort found at many Tri-State sites
Posted at 5:13 AM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 11:02:51-04

CINCINNATI -- Parents with kids who normally get a free meal or two at school each day may have to look a little harder to find summer lunch programs. But, there are a lot of options.

Summer food programs are being held at churches, city halls, schools and parks, but kids and teens may not know about them or can't get to them. A real issue is getting the kids to meal locations when there's no car or no parent to take them, said summer food program managers.

One in 10 children are eligible to participate in a summer food program, said Kurt Reiber, Freestore Foodbank president. But the reality is that only one in 10 eligible kids is in a program.

"If an older sibling is watching two or three kids at home, then many times the parents won't let the kids go to a food service area," Reiber said. That ups the challenge for kids.

RELATED: Cincinnati Public Schools offering free breakfast, lunch through summer

Many food sites are participants in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program, which is administered through state education departments and operated by nonprofits. According to the USDA website, they plan to serve 200 million meals to kids this summer.

Cathy Gallagher, Summer Food Service Program supervisor in the Kentucky Department of Education, said there are 160 sponsors in the USDA program across the commonwealth. Those sponsors operate dozens of sites each. Schools in Kentucky as well as Ohio are among the sponsors.

Kids eat lunch at the Oasis Summer Camp at Northern Hills United Methodist Church, part of the summer food program hosted by Whole Again. Funds for the program come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Picture by Whole Again)

Sites can includes libraries, schools, recreation centers and city buildings. Sponsors follow the nutrition guidelines set by the 42-year-old USDA program.

"Our estimate is that we're reaching about 12 percent of the kids on free and reduced lunch programs," Gallagher said. Programs are usually up and running by the first week of June in both states. More site locations could be added in the first week or so.

The quickest way to find a USDA site in any state is to text 877-877 with "food" in the text. USDA texts back to ask for address or ZIP code, then sends a list of the closest locations. A call to the National Hunger Hotline at 866-348-6479 will also direct users to nearby sites.

Most summer programs offer free meals to anyone ages 2 to 18 regardless of income. Some offer low-cost meals for adults who accompany children so they can eat together.

Freestore is also reaching out to libraries to host sites, Reiber said: It's about "how we can get some food to the kids."

Gregory Chandler, who along with his wife started Whole Again International to help feed kids, is a sponsor for multiple sites across Cincinnati, mostly at churches. Chandler, who is also the pastor at World Outreach Christian Church, said the nonprofit hires 50 to 60 part-time employees to help make lunches and breakfasts available at 32 sites. They use a catering company that prepares a mix of hot meals and sandwiches.

Whole Again, which is in its 13th year, served 103,000 meals last summer, Chandler said. They work with churches that already have summer programs for kids and it fits their missions.

Another challenge is weekend food supplies. Chandler said Whole Again is still accepting donations to send food home.

"Fifty dollars is all it takes to feed a child over the weekend for 11 weeks," he said. Freestore also has a need for donations at its 350 pantries.

Reiber said a lot of people who donate understand the need for food around the holidays, but don't understand the need in the summer is even more dire. Freestore sees an uptick at its regional food banks during the summer months.

Summer food resources

  • Freestore, summer food service program: Nutritious picnic fare including sandwiches and fruit. Find the list at
  • No Kid Hungry Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Education: Participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program. Mix of meals offered from hot to cold depending on the site. Nonprofit sponsors provide the meals and staff the sites. To find a location, call National Hunger Hotline at 866-348-6479, text 877-877 with the message "food" for a list of nearby sites, or go to
  • Ohio Department of Education: Like Kentucky, participates in the USDA program. Mix of meals offered from hot to cold depending on the site. Nonprofit sponsors provide the meals and staff the sites. To find a location, call the National Hunger Hotline at 866-348-6479, text 877-877 with the message "food" to get a list of nearby sites, or go to a map at Site locations continue to be updated.
  • Whole Again, Cincinnati: Part of the USDA program serving breakfast and lunch at 32 sites this summer, mostly in churches. More information at Find a map of locations at Still seeking donations for its weekend program.