City looking for summer meal site volunteers

Setting up a summer meal site can provide food insecure kids with a meal and a safe place to play during the summer.

The city of Philadelphia is looking for volunteers to run summer meal sites to provide city kids with meals and a safe place to socialize in the summer.

The sites, an extension of the national school lunch program, offer nutritious meals to kids during the day when schools are closed at no charge to their families or hosts of the sites. The program is possible thanks to partnerships such as Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The meals are provided by the NDS and the program is federally funded.

Volunteers can run community feeding sites in areas such as large yards and common rooms in apartment buildings, as well as common areas such as churches and community buildings.

Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the country, with one in eight children facing food insecurity. Last year saw over 1,000 sites serving meals, though several years ago there were more than 1,400. More than a million meals were served last summer.

“The end of the school year brings unique difficulties for families that rely on the breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals program throughout the year,” said Brooke Mullen, assistant director of community relations for NDS.

“The Summer Meals program is essential for those families and their children, not just in Philadelphia, but in the surrounding counties as well,” she said.

Ideal sites would be able to serve five days a week for 11 weeks, from June 10 to Aug. 23, though schedules can also be flexible if the site is only able to serve for certain days or weeks. They would also feed an average of 25 kids.

“For kids who receive summer meals, the effects are long-lasting,” said Katie Milholin, community educator for Coalition Against Hunger, a partner of the program. “Not only do they remember the meal they received, they remember the feeling of being loved by their community, who stepped up to provide for them during a vulnerable time.”

Another option is setting up a Playstreet on a small one-way street in the city. The Playstreets program, created by Parks & Rec, closes city streets from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer to give kids a safe place to play and can also have meals delivered to the sites. Playstreets have served from 20 to 100 meals per day.

Playstreets cannot be within two blocks of a recreation center or playground and cannot have a business located on it. To learn more about the program, contact the Summer Food Program Office at 215-685-2725.

No ID or registration is required to set up a summer meal site. Those interested in setting up a site can contact the Parks & Rec at 215-685-2725 or direct inquires to Fun Safe Philly Summer at 215-685-2185.

To find nearby summer meal sites, call the hotline at 855-252-MEAL, text FOOD to 877-877 or visit PhillySummerMeals.org.