Operation Food Search is doing its part to make sure area children do not go hungry during the summer months when they are not in school, by expanding its summer lunch program.
“Our goal is to deliver 100,000 meals to children ages 18 and younger throughout the summer,” Kristen Wild, executive director of Operation Food Search, said. Operation Food Search expanded into St. Charles County this summer by adding sites. “We are also piloting having for part of the summer, actually going into Warren and Lincoln counties. We really want to reach some of the rural areas as well.”
Wild said Missouri lags significantly behind other states in summer meal participation, ranked 42nd out of 50 states. “Only 1 in 12 Missouri children, or 9.7 percent, who would benefit from a summer meals program, actually participates,” she said. “A lot of these kids are heavily reliant on free and reduced breakfast and lunch at school, and when that is not available to them, they could otherwise skip a lot of meals throughout the summer.”
Operation Food Search works with the Pepsico Foundation to assemble the free meals in easy-to-deliver units for the children, and meals are supplied to free-standing sites or they create food pop-ups at various locations through a roving, mobile delivery.
“Between the two, we will be delivering food to over 60 sites,” she said. “Through the stationary model, we deliver meals to programs that are established and have activities for children, such as libraries, community centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations, parks – and we deliver the meals to those sites for them to be distributed by the staff members who are at those sites. The mobile model involves our taking four vehicles on the road, and we deliver the meals.”
One route it goes to during its summer program is the Jennings School District. “The other three routes go ten weeks and those routes include north City, north County and south City and south County,” Wild said. They spend only about 45 minutes to an hour at each site before they move to another location.
“Children are able to receive a meal that is well-balanced, following USDA guidelines, and we have staff members and volunteers who accompany the vans and provide activities for the children, so that we are nourishing their minds as well as their bodies,” Wild said.
Each meal includes a milk, grain, protein, fruit or vegetable. Activities provided by volunteers and staff include arts and crafts, STEM and sports activities as part of Operation Food Search’s Food & Fun Club.
The Operation Food Search summer meal program began June 3 and runs through August 9. Its hours are 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To finding lunch locations, texting “FOOD” to 877-877 on your mobile device.
“We are just one small piece of a nationwide program,” Wild said, “so if there are families who live here and travel elsewhere for the summer, they can text that number and they enter their zip code and they will be given the three closest locations to get summer meals.”
For more information, visit https://www.operationfoodsearch.org/summer-meals-locations/.