By Cassandra Lans
The Hunger Task Force launched its seventh annual summer meals program this week an initiative that provides free meals to Milwaukee children in the summer months. The program has increase in popularity, from about 400,000 meals served in 2004 to 1.5 million meals last year. And this year, about 20 sites will expand the program to serve dinners as well, meaning organizers are expecting another jump in meals served.
Organizers kicked off the launch by sending about 40 volunteers out to canvass the city with bright orange signs reading “Free Summer Meals For Kids HERE.”
Sherrie Tussler, the Hunger Task Force executive director, said organizers are getting the word out during the last week of classes, which end Monday for Milwaukee Public Schools, and will spend this week posting the signs and sending kids home with letters advertising the program. Some sites will open Monday, and organizers ask parents and kids to call 2-1-1 from a landline or (866)-211- 3380 on a cell phone to fi nd the nearest open location.
The summer meals program aims to feed children whose families usually depend on school lunches. More than 200 schools, community centers or recreation centers will offer meals. Breakfasts and lunches are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, and a grant from the Harley-Davidson Foundation funds outreach and site staffi ng. Kohl’s Corp. has contributed to the funding of dinners, which are not covered by the USDA.
Summer school does not meet in August, the month with the highest need, so the Harley-Davidson Foundation’s grant pays to keep schools open and staffed.
Tussler said that with the continued recession and the addition of free dinners, the program expects to serve about 1.8 million meals this year. Alan Shannon of the USDA attributed the success of the program to the collaboration between the USDA, private companies and community organizations.
“This is a program we don’t administer on our own. We rely on community partners,” he said. “Right now with the economy, it’s really important that we work together.”
The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program operates nationwide, and served more than 2.2 million children in 2009.