Summer Food Service Programs

Boy drinking box of juice at meal program

During the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program. When school is out during the summer, only 1 in 6 kids still have access to those meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

Food banks, community centers, park districts, schools, and other organizations are working together to make sure kids and teens still have the meals they need during the summer.

What are summer food service programs?

Summer food service programs, also called summer meal programs or summer lunch programs, are free meal sites that help kids and teens up to 18 years of age when school is out in June, July, and August.  The free meals are offered at safe, supervised places in your community like churches, schools, libraries, and community centers. 

Kids and teens can just show up during the scheduled meal hours and receive a free meal. Some summer programs provide breakfast and lunch. There may also be summer activities or learning programs available during mealtimes. No paperwork or proof of income is required to receive free breakfast or lunch.

Are summer meal programs still running during the 2020 COVID pandemic?

Yes, but to keep our communities safe, there will be some changes at your local meal sites. Some summer meal programs offer:

  • Grab-and-go meals so kids can follow social distancing guidelines

  • Pre-packed breakfasts and lunches or groceries for multiple days
  • Pick up meals at school meal distributions
  • Meal delivery to bus stops, public housing or other central locations

Check with the summer meal site you want to visit for up-to-date details on how they are helping to keep kids safe during the pandemic.

How do I find a 2020 summer meal program in my community?

Summer meal programs can be difficult to find so here are three easy ways to find your nearest free meal site.

  • Text: You can find meal programs near you by texting the word FOOD to 877-877, thanks to our friends at No Kid Hungry. You’ll get a message with nearby locations. Data and message rates may apply.

  • Call: Calling the USDA Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 is another great way to find free summer food service programs in your area.
  • Ask Your Local Food Bank: Search by zip code or state using the food bank locator and contact the food bank nearest you. Even if the food bank looks far away, they often work with meal programs closer to your home.

Find Your Local Food Bank

How are the summer meal programs funded?

Some summer meal programs are funded by the federal government through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Food banks then purchase and deliver these meals to existing youth programs within your community. Last year, the Feeding America network of food banks served almost 7 million meals to more than 220,000 children through the Summer Food Service Program.

Other summer meal programs are operated by local food banks including the Backpack Program and the School Pantry Program through the generous support of individual and corporate donors. 

What can I do to help?

Summer meal programs can be hard to find, and many families don’t know they’re available. The best way to help is by sharing information with your neighbors about how they can get free meals during the summer if they are in need. If your family visited summer meal programs, share your story and let people know it’s okay to need help sometimes.

If you’re interested in doing more to help fight summer hunger, you can: