Metro DetroitJuly 15, 2013
Federal program provides free breakfast, lunch to children during summer break
By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer
The Summer Food Service Program provides free breakfast and lunch every weekday to individuals ages 18 and younger.
Adults can pay $2 for breakfast and $3 for lunch. In the Madison Heights and Hazel Park area, program sites include the following:
To find other Summer Food Service Program sites near you, visit http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/schoolnutrition/.
METRO DETROIT — It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach. That’s why the federal government backs the National School Lunch Program, providing free or low-cost meals to kids during the school year. According to the USDA, more than 31 million kids participated in the program each school day in 2011.
But what about when school is out for summer? June, July and August could become a “feeding gap” for children from struggling families, if not for another federal resource: The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
Administered in Michigan through the Michigan Department of Education, the SFSP provides free breakfast and lunch to children ages 18 and younger, five days a week. Adults can buy a meal: $2 for breakfast and $3 for lunch.
There are many program sites, including ones in Madison Heights and Hazel Park. However, USDA data shows the summer program is used by a mere fraction of the children who receive meals during the school year, suggesting a lack of awareness.
“We want to promote it, not just for what we’re doing here, but for all locations,” said Randy Speck, superintendent of Madison District Public Schools. “I’ve talked to moms who have said that since we started this program — last year, especially, when this area was coming out of the recession — it was a real benefit.”
It was July 3 at Wilkinson Middle School in Madison Heights, and even on the cusp of Independence Day, there were still dozens of kids passing through the food line and eating in the cafeteria.
“There are some days I can’t even get in here, it’s so full,” Speck said. He said that he eats there himself several times a week, getting to know the families.
On that day, Speck welcomed U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, to Wilkinson. Earlier that morning, Levin had checked out the program site at Kelly Middle School in Eastpointe. He wanted to see firsthand the difference the program was making.
“I think these programs are, for too many people, abstract,” Levin said. “These are real people — kids, parents, grandparents. I talked to a grandmother in Eastpointe with two kids; she came from Serbia 30 years ago, and she’s just so grateful. She says she doesn’t like it when anyone slams this country — she feels so patriotic. She feels it’s so wonderful this country cares about all of the people who live here.”
Levin said that while this particular program is safe from the automatic spending cuts of the federal budget sequester, it’s important that Congress always keep in mind the value of similar social safety nets when they consider what to cut and what to keep.
“Before you cut, you should know what you’re cutting. I think that’s a basic principle,” Levin said. “Unfortunately, I think that, too often, there isn’t knowledge as to what something is all about. So I would just urge all of my colleagues to spend some time coming to programs, talking to the people who run them, and also to the people who participate in them. Probably the most informed person we can talk to was the woman who runs the program, who talks about the kids she sees.”
The Congressman was referring to Maureen Manzo, who has worked in the Madison district for 10 years. She helps out with the summer program by serving meals to the children and families. According to Manzo, between the two program sites in the Madison district, they average 125 people for breakfast and 225 for lunch.
“These kids come in, and they’re starving,” Manzo said. “You can tell they’re not eating over the weekend, they’re not getting the food they’d normally get during school. On Monday, they come in and we’re cleared out of everything. And then we see a lot of families coming in who are grateful for this program.”
Meals must be consumed on site to ensure they’re helping the people intended. Breakfast consists of one serving of milk, one serving of bread or grain, and one serving of fruits and/or vegetables. Lunch consists of one serving of milk, one serving of meat or meat alternate, one serving of bread or grain, and two servings of fruits and/or vegetables.
Site eligibility is determined by the surrounding area. If a school has 50 percent or more students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year, then the attendance area around that school qualifies for the summer program.
The summer program aims to keep kids healthy and strong during the summer break, when they might otherwise not get enough nutritious meals. Speck said he’s happy the Madison district can do its part to help out.
“Our main philosophy in this district is to serve families, and we can serve families through food,” Speck said. “We can’t get to math and science until we take care of some of the basic needs. That’s why I am such a promoter of this program, and I hope that the federal government will continue to support this kind of thing.”