CHICAGO — During the school year, many of Chicago’s kids rely on free and reduced-fare school lunches. When school ends, it can leave some kids searching for a reliable meal during the balmy days of summer.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository and No Kid Hungry are teaming up to help fill the gap summer break creates. Chicagoans can text “FOOD” (or “COMIDA” for Spanish) to 877-877 in order to find the nearest free summer meals for kids.
Once you text the service it becomes activated. Users will be prompted to enter their address (or just a zip code) and they will be directed to the nearest sources of free food for kids 18 and under.
There is no paperwork to fill out and no income requirements to meet. Anyone with a child who could benefit from free summertime meals can use the service.
Greg Trotter, spokesperson for Greater Chicago Food Depository, said the service is crucial because many Chicagoans who go hungry aren’t aware of the resources available to them.
“Hunger in the summer is a huge concern,” he said. “People only think about [hunger] around the holidays. Summer is actually a big time of concern for us because kids don’t have the same access to food.”
One way the Greater Chicago Food Depository helps curb summer hunger is through their “Lunch Bus.” The bus makes stops throughout the city and plans on providing over 480,000 meals at more than 250 sites this summer.
For Chicagoans using the texting service, the Lunch Bus locations will pop up if their address is near any of its locations.
Food insecurity is a significant issue in Chicago, where nearly one out of every six children is at risk. No Kid Hungry aims to change that with its texting service.
“At its simplest, it’s a tool for families, caregivers and community leaders to help kids,” said Derrick Lambert, spokesperson for No Kid Hungry.
Lambert said No Kid Hungry uses a national database provided by the United States Department of Agriculture to populate the service with up to date free summer meal sites.
The texting service saw “organic growth” from 2013 to 2016, jumping from 20,000 users to more than 55,000 users in that time frame. But in 2017 the service went viral, said Lambert.
Thanks to bloggers, media coverage and word of mouth the texting line now has over 175,000 users.
“Now more children and more families are able to access these programs which is the ultimate goal,” he said.
For more information about the Lunch Bus and summer meals click here.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.