A Visions Unlimited volunteer prepares a tray of food for participants of the Meet Up and Eat Up summer food service program July 11.

A Visions Unlimited volunteer prepares a tray of food for participants of the Meet Up and Eat Up summer food service program July 11.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

Program provides free breakfast, lunch to Farmington area

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published July 16, 2019


FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — A free statewide summer food service program, Meet Up and Eat Up, returns to the greater Farmington area for its third year to feed young people, people with disabilities and anyone else in need of a free meal throughout the summer.

The program began July 9 and will run until Aug. 15 at Visions Unlimited, 33000 Freedom Road. Free breakfast and lunch will be served 8:30-9 a.m. and 11 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursdays.

Meals will be provided free of charge to youths ages 18 and younger, as well as to people up to age 26 who have a disability and who are enrolled in an education program recognized by a state or local agency. Adults can also stop by for some nutritious food for $3 per meal.

While the greater Farmington area has only been providing the program for the past three years, it was started at a national level by the USDA in the late 1960s and was permanently adopted by the Michigan Department of Education in the early 1970s.

Stephanie Willingham, a supervisor in the MDE’s Office of Health and Nutrition Services, said the program began with the goal to provide students reliant on free and reduced lunch programs during the school year a way to access healthy, nutritious meals during the summer season as well.

“A lot of families rely on free and reduced lunches during the school year, and some schools even offer snacks and supper to kids, but once school is out, all of those stop,” Willingham said. “There is a need to help the community, bring kids together, do activities, continue learning and reading, and providing the kids nutritious food in the summer.”

Bobbie Goodrum, the principal at Visions Unlimited, said she started to notice that unfilled need in the community herself, so she took action.

“When I found out Visions (Unlimited) was eligible based on our number of students, I requested that we be allowed to fill that need in our community during the summer,” she said.

To be eligible as a Meet Up and Eat Up site, organizations or locations must be in close proximity to areas where there are 50% or more children who receive free and reduced meals at school. If sites don’t meet that requirement, the MDE  then looks at census data to see if the site is within a pocket of low-income homes or poverty within the community.

In the past three years, Goodrum estimates that the program has served “a couple hundred” local families.

“I would say we have about 12 to 20 consistent people who come in almost every day and every opportunity they have to get food in the summer,” she said.

Statewide, the program served almost 3.5 million meals  — breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks  — in 2018. The program has been serving about the same number of meals consistently over the past three years, dropping off from just over 4 million meals in 2015.

The impact of this program stretches beyond simply providing a nutritious meal to a child in need, Willingham said. The programs are encouraged to provide educational information about nutrition and healthy eating habits, access to physical activities that stimulate mental and physical fitness, and more.

Each local program must also adhere to strict nutritional food choices set by the USDA. Local program hosts have to include a meat or meat alternate, a grain, a fruit and a vegetable option, and milk.

“We try to provide all of our sponsors with nutrition education information to help educate kids and families on what they’re eating and why it’s important, just trying to continue some of the things they get from the school throughout the summer,” Willingham said.

“This can really help families really make it through the summer,” she said.

Youths and families in need of a free meal can text “food” to 877877 to locate the nearest summer meal site. Free meal sites are located all across the state, and individuals don’t have to be a resident of that community to access the free meals.

For more information on Meet Up and Eat Up, visit www.michigan.gov and click on Food & Nutrition Programs, then Summer Food Service Program.