Food insecurity combated by area schools and Summer Eats Minnesota
When the school year ends, some children no longer have access to regular, daily meals.
But, thanks to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created, many towns are now able to offer free meals during the summer.
"A huge misunderstanding is the thought that there isn't a need in this community," said Stephanie Winjum, Business Manager at Frazee Public Schools. "There's so many people that really can use it, and we want to make sure that everyone can get a lunch."
The nonprofit group Feeding America found that Becker County had 3,270 people (9.7 percent) who were food insecure in 2017. Ottertail County had 5,020 people (8.7 percent). The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) found statistics that align with that, showing that 1,820 or 39.1% of students in Becker County are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Ottertail County was just slightly lower, as 2,896 or 37.1% of their students qualify.
In these two counties, almost every town with a school has a free meal location. The exact address, hours and menu of each of these places is easily available on an app created by Hunger Impact Partners, a nonprofit organization in Minneapolis.
"It (Summer Eats Minnesota) was an idea that came out of a brainstorming session," said Ellie Lucas, Chief Executive Officer of the organization, via phone.
The app launched in 2017 and was tested in the metro area, but Lucas is now hoping to get more users across the state.
More app users in the lakes area may benefit Winjum, as it could bring more people to Frazee's lunches. Since the opening on June 3, the school has fed between 100 to 150 people a day, which Winjum said is better than she expected. However, she did also share that summer school ends this week, which may bring a drop in the numbers.
It's important for Frazee that the number of lunches served stay high, as it shows the state education department that the program is needed there. When Winjum applied last summer, Frazee had actually been turned down, as the state did not believe there was a high enough concentration of children in the area. Winjum then looked for a way to prove to them that the program should be there, and found extra information, statistics and paperwork that led to the approval this summer.
"I think the first day (a worker) prepped for 75 kids and she actually served like 129," Winjum said.
What Winjum believes a lot of people don't realize about this program is that it doesn't matter what district you are in, where you go to school, or if you have free or reduced lunches during the school year. All children up to age 18 eat for free and, at Frazee, any adult can eat for $4.05 too.
Frazee Elementary School is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday until Aug. 9. Other area locations with free meals can be found on Summer Eats Minnesota, which is free for download on the Apple Store or Google Play Store.