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Today's Family Magazine

When school lets out, the Summer Food Service Program steps in

May 22, 2017 11:51AM ● By Today's Family
By Mary Flenner

Summer should be a carefree time for kids. One filled with trips to the pool, kickball, bike rides and freeze tag.  Their only worry should be figuring out how to out-splash their friend's cannonball or wondering when the ice cream truck will make its next appearance. 

Yet, sadly, one in four children in Cleveland won't know where their next meal is coming from this summer.

While many children receive food assistance during the school year, many don't realize that these children can be left hungry come summer months.

That's where the Greater Cleveland Food Bank's  Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) comes in. 

School meals can sometimes be a student's only source of nutrition for the day, so when the school year is over, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank helps to ensure that kids who receive those meals don't go hungry come summertime.

In 2016, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank served 64,000 kids throughout the year, including their BackPacks for Kids program, which discreetly sends food home with children to sustain them over the weekend.

"Cleveland is one of the worst cities in the country when it comes to childhood hunger," says Karen Pozna, director of communication and events at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.  The need isn't isolated to one area, or even just lower-income neighborhoods.  Hunger is everywhere.

"Since the recession, we’ve seen the need increase farther into the suburbs," says Pozna.

The  Summer Food Service Program delivers meals to predetermined locations, offering fun activities to encourage kids to visit and enjoy the meals on-site.  Feeding locations include libraries, boys and girls clubs, and the Salvation Army.

The GCFB offers 111 summer feeding sites throughout their service territory, where children up to age 18 can come and enjoy a meal during summer months.  Many locations are in Cuyahoga County, but assistance can also be found throughout Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, Ashland and Richland counties.

While many think of the Food Bank during the holidays, the summer months are equally as busy, especially because it lasts longer and there are so many sites provided.

"Most people don’t think about the fact that children are missing out on these meals.  Therefore, many don’t know where to go for a free meal.  So we're trying to get the word out that we offer the  Summer Food Service Program and a place to go get a well-balanced meal," Pozna stresses.

The program can provide up to 7,000 meals per day, so volunteers and donations are very important during this time.  Just $1 can provide four nutritious meals, and beginning in the month of June, donations will be matched by their generous sponsors.

If you can't make a monetary donation, consider a food donation.  Most requested items include peanut butter, tuna fish, canned beef stew, canned soup, and cereal. 

Volunteering time to prepare and serve meals is also a great way to give back.  The Food Bank hosts family nights (for children 12 and up), which offer a great opportunity to give back together.  Not only is it a unique way to bond as a family, but it sets a great example and teaches kids about helping others and gives an appreciation for all they have. 

"The kids that attend get so excited about all the different meals.  It's always nice to see the smile on their faces when they see everything we have. It really has an impact.  Hundreds of kids look forward to it.  The Summer Food Service Program provides a safe environment with exciting activities to help draw the kids.  And of course, we try to sneak in as many veggies as we can," Pozna says with a smile.

The Summer Food Service Program runs from June 5 – August 11.  To donate or learn more about volunteering, visit them online at

If you would like more information on summer feeding locations or are in need of food assistance, call the Food Bank at 216-738-2067.