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Leaders from across the state gathered Jan. 20 at the first annual Summer Food Service Summit in Stockbridge to answer a burning question: How can we feed more children in Georgia?

The informative meeting about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which funds meals and snacks for children who qualify for reduced-price lunches during the school year, has me wondering about a few burning questions of my own:

  • How can we connect this valuable program to our expectation that every child in Georgia will be on the path to reading proficiently by third grade by 2020?
  • What can we do to make sure more libraries, or even bookmobiles or bookstores, get involved?
  • Why not put a free meal anywhere reading happens?

The conference highlighted success stories about what SFSP looks like when it hits the ground. In some cases, libraries serve meals. First lady Sandra Deal pointed out in her opening remarks how impressed she was when she visited some of these libraries last year.

According to Shani Drake, marketing and outreach manager of DECAL’s Nutrition Services Division, 23 libraries in Georgia participated last year as meal sites in summer nutrition programs coordinated by both the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) and DECAL. “While that is a small fraction of sites, we’re looking to grow this partnership, as learning and a healthy diet are inextricably linked,” Drake said.

DECAL is working with the Georgia Public Library Service, which is helping recruit other libraries as sites for the Summer Food Service Program.

Libraries and library systems aren’t always the SFSP sponsors themselves. Dawn Eggleston with the Southeast Georgia outreach program Our Daily Bread took it upon herself to schedule a mobile operation of meal delivery to libraries in conjunction with their summer programming schedules. Eggleston presented in a seminar called “Innovative Strategies for Delivering Meals.”

“Our library program has been very successful,” she said. In 2014, Our Daily Bread delivered lunches and snacks to libraries in Glynn and Camden counties. Other attendees of the summit were library staff from around the state, hoping to return to work armed with more information on what they need to do to host.

Were you one of them?

If you would like to see your local library participate in the Summer Food Service Program, contact Shani Drake at 404-656-3221 or shani.drake@decal.ga.gov.

Learn more about the Summer Food Service Program.

And please reach out to Get Georgia Reading with your thoughts and ideas about how we might have lunch AND books on the menu this summer.

A FEW FACTS WE LEARNED AT THE SFSP SUMMIT

  • SFSP is a community-driven program. But many communities may not be aware they have access to these USDA funds to reimburse meals in summer.

  • This year, the USDA wants to increase meals served across the United States by 14 million more than it served in 2014.

  • Last year, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) partnered with 112 sponsoring organizations, serving 4.6 million meals and snacks in 94 counties. That represents only 20 percent of children enrolled in schools in 2014, according to Falita Flowers, director of DECAL’s nutrition services.

  • Decal wants the program to active in every county in Georgia.

  • Targeted counties this year that were unserved in 2014 are Atkinson, Pike, Bacon, Schley, Baker, Seminole, Clinch, Stewart, Columbia, Taliaferro, Lanier, Warren, Oconee and Webster.

  • The USDA piloted the program in 1965 and authorized it in 1975.

  • According to The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT data, 59.7 percent of Georgia’s students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in 2013.