Although most of us delight in the idea of summer in the midst of winter, those summer months can be a very trying time for families that rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year.

During the school year, many students receive healthy and nutritious school meals for little or no charge. It is vital to ensure that children in the commonwealth have continuous access to the nutrition needed to support their growth, health, and academic success when school is not in session. Having healthy nutritious meals should not end when school does but many households struggle over the summer months to provide children with the nutritious food they need over the summer months.

Following a savior who calls disciples to “feed my lambs” (John 21:15), LAMPa and Lutheran advocates have been long-time supporters of school nutrition and summer meals programs. LAMPa urges congregations to please consider sponsoring or hosting a summer meals program, or to help ensure one is available in your community.

The United Stated Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) summer meals programs bridges the gap between school years by providing children in lower income areas with the fuel they need to play and grow during the summer months and return to school ready to learn. These programs are federally funded and administered in Pennsylvania at the state level by the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Division of Food and Nutrition (DFN).

Summer meal program sponsors can be School Food Authorities (SFAs) and other non-profit Community Organizations (COs), including but not limited to local governments, churches, YMCAs, libraries etc. A Sponsor is the organization that is responsible for administering the Summer Meal Program. Program sponsors are reimbursed at an established per meal rate to provide up to two meals or snacks per day to children at meal sites. A meal site is a physical location where meals are served, and sponsors may serve meals at one or more sites. Sites can be schools, camps, churches, community centers, housing complexes, libraries, migrant centers, parks, playgrounds, pools, and other public sites where children gather. Meals have been traditionally served in a congregate setting, where children eat at the site. USDA has implemented a permanent provision to allow non-congregate meal service, where meals are consumed off site, in eligible rural areas.

Typically, summer meals are required to be served in a congregate setting on-site. PDE is excited to announce an innovative change to the summer meals programs this year. With implementation of USDA’s Rural Non-Congregate meal service option, Pennsylvania is able to expand the network of providers and food resources available to children during the summer. The Rural Non-Congregate meal service option allows children in areas designated as rural and where no congregate meals service is available to receive multiple days of meals via grab-n-go, curbside pick-up, drive-thru pick-up, mobile delivery routes, and home delivery. This will make meals attainable to children formerly unreachable during the summer months due to issues related to distance and the inability for children to get to meal sites.

“We’ve long known that hungry kids in rural areas were more likely to face food insecurity over the summer because of the congregate feeding requirement,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “For many, there was no way to travel miles to a site to be served while their families waited. During the pandemic, when this requirement was waived, we saw the numbers of children served in rural areas increase. They didn’t just appear out of nowhere. We knew there was a need all along.”

Sponsors and sites are needed to make this a reality. SFAs and COs are encouraged to consider implementing the Summer Meal Program to provide children critical access to meals during the summer months by becoming a summer program sponsor or hosting a meal service site (administered by an existing sponsor). If the SFA or CO is in a lower income, rural area, consider the possibility of operating a non-congregate site to reach a maximum number of eligible children. To see if an address qualifies as lower income or rural you can use the No Kid Hungry Summer Meals Eligibility Map | Center for Best Practices.

For more information on becoming a sponsor or hosting a meal site for the summer, contact PDE, DFN at,, or 800-331-0129.

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