Illinois State Board of Education encourages participation in summer food programs

Programs help fill nutritional gap for children


SPRINGFIELD, IL – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is encouraging school administrators to make sure students take advantage of free, nutritious meals and snacks available this summer at more than 1,700 summer food service program sites statewide. Applications to be a sponsor can be submitted to ISBE beginning March 1.

“Summer food programs fill an important role for both parents and children,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “As educators, we know that nutrition is a critical prerequisite to learning. However, learning does not stop when the school year ends, and neither does the need for a nutritious meal.”

Summer food programs work by providing free meals and snacks to low-income children through age 18 when school is not in session. People ages 18 and older who are enrolled in school programs for persons with disabilities may also participate. Summer food programs typically operate June through August, but can start as early as May and can go into September.

During the summer of 2010, more than 105,000 low-income Illinois children ate free meals through summer food programs. Those children represent 14.7 percent of the roughly 721,000 children who ate free or reduced-priced meals during the 2009-2010 school year. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more than 18 million children received free or reduced-price school meals during the 2010 school year, but only 2.8 million children received summer meals.

ISBE administers two federally funded summer food programs – the USDA’s ‘Summer Food Service Program for Children’ and the federal National School Lunch Program’s ‘Seamless Summer Option.’ Both programs are designed to bridge the summer nutrition gap by offering free nutritious breakfasts, lunches or snacks to children age 18 and younger.

Most summer food program sites are open to all children in the community. These “open sites” are also eligible for federal funds if the site is located in an area in which at least 50 percent of the children are from households that would be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. All children 18 years of age or younger who come to an approved open site may receive meals.

Local governments, school districts and non-profits can sponsor summer food sites, which may include schools, parks, recreation centers, housing projects, migrant centers, churches, summer camps and others. Organizations and government entities may apply to ISBE to be a summer food program sponsor beginning March 1 through June 15, 2012.  Organizations may also become a site with an existing sponsor; to learn more, visit the ISBE website at:

To locate an open site summer food program in Chicago, contact the Illinois Hunger Coalition’s Hunger Hotline at (800) 359-2163 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hotline is available in both English and Spanish. For other areas of the state, an interactive map of the state’s summer food program sites can be found online at