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Statewide program calls for help closing students’ summer break meal gaps

Kentucky Department of Education

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Summer Food Service Program provided more than five million meals to Kentucky kids last summer. Officials said to keep these numbers up, the process must start far before school lets out.

KDE is now calling upon public organizations to become sponsors for this year’s Summer Food Service Program. Starting in February, KDE will provide free training for potential sponsor organizations, health inspectors, cooks, and other community partners to ensure the program can deliver meals to low-income students while school is on break.

Cathy Gallagher is the Summer Food Service Program Coordinator with the Division of School and Community Nutrition. She said the training sessions will educate participants on every aspect of regulations that sponsors must follow.

“We go everything from where a site could be to what the meal pattern is, how to do federal procurement, food safety, record keeping. What they need to do to monitor the site, ‘they’ meaning the local organization that is running the program, and then what we do to monitor what local organizations are doing,” said Gallagher.

Organizations like public or nonprofit private school districts, summer camps, universities, and local or state governments can apply to become sponsors or meal distribution sites. These sites are located at accessible public areas like schools, community centers, and parks.

Gallagher said previously, children had to eat their meals on-site, but this rule has changed to better serve rural communities across Kentucky. She said this and other adjustments will be reflected in the training.

“Now in the rural areas, it is allowable for children to sort of grab and go. Take the meals off-site with them back in their home, or in some cases, take more than one day for the meal,” said Gallagher. “So, we’re kind of going through a transition, but that ultimately, for children in rural areas, means that we’re able to better get meals in the hands of kids that might have to travel to a meal site.”

Organizations interested in becoming sponsors or hosting meal sites are encouraged to fill out the Summer Food Service Program Survey as soon as possible. Eligible sponsors will then be contacted with further program and training information.

The survey and more information are available online at the Kentucky Department of Education website, education.ky.gov.