The Summer Food Service Program, known as Summer Eats in Massachusetts, is a federally-funded nutrition program that provides free meals to children ages 18 and under when school is not in session. In Massachusetts, the program is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with support from Project Bread. 1 in 5 households with children (March 2022) in Massachusetts are experiencing food insecurity.
Summer Eats helps to fill the gap left open during the summer months for these families. When children have reliable access to food during the summer they can return to school ready to learn. During a typical school year, many families stretch their food budget by applying for free or reduced-price school meals for their children. Frequently, these families find it difficult to absorb the additional meal costs when school is not in session. These children may be at risk for hunger and malnutrition, and they will return to school in September at a disadvantage relative to their peers. By providing free, nutritious meals throughout the summer, Summer Eats ensures that every child has access to the food they need to succeed.
A sponsor administers the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for one or more meal sites. The sponsor is responsible for all financial and administrative aspects of the program. A sponsor may be a public school department, local government agency, camp, or private non-profit organization. For-profit entities are not eligible to become SFSP sponsors. Sponsor responsibilities include the following tasks: hiring, training, and supervising program staff, monitoring sites, arranging for meals to be prepared and delivered to sites, and submitting reimbursement claims to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Often sponsors prepare their own meals for the SFSP, however, they may also purchase vended meals from the local school food service authority or a private caterer. An entity interested in becoming an SFSP sponsor must request an application from DESE.
A summer meal site is a location at which free meals are served to children 18 years old and under. SFSP sites are frequently held at pools, parks, schools, community centers, religious organizations, and other locations where kids and teens gather during the summer. All organizations or entities interested in becoming a SFSP site should contact CNOP. While sponsors are responsible for coordinating the financial and administrative aspects of the program, SFSP site supervisors are responsible for serving meals while following USDA guidelines and recording the number of meals served. CNOP can help determine if a site is eligible. Another way to determine eligibility is to use the USDA Capacity Builder Map.
Summer meal sites can either be "open" or "closed:"
Open or "area" sites provide free meals to any child, no registration is required. Open sites must be located in eligible areas, which can be determined using our eligibility map. Areas are eligible if they draw attendance from a school in which 50 percent of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, or if census data shows that at least half of children in the area live in a household whose income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Closed or "enrolled" sites limit meal participation to children enrolled in the site's programs. For example, a month-long arts program with 25 registered participants would be considered a closed site since the meals are served only to those 25 children. Similar to open sites, closed sites must either be located in an eligible area, or 50 percent of the children who attend the site must be eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.
All food served as part of the SFSP must meet federal nutrition guidelines. For every SFSP meal served to a child, sponsors receive a per meal reimbursement. The funding for these meals comes from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but it is paid to the sponsors by DESE. Reimbursement rates are updated every year.