Providing Nutritious Meals During the Hungriest Season | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

We Support Dozens of Local Organizations to Provide Nutritious Meals During the Hungriest Season

In 2020, a record 10.2 million meals were served in Dallas and Collin counties.

For North Texas children, summer should be fun and carefree. But this is when kids are most likely to experience food insecurity in our community, since they no longer have access to regular school meals.

Take Dallas County as an example. In Dallas schools, 89% of students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals during the school year. Once summer rolls around, this means nearly nine out of 10 students lose out on at least one regular, nutritious meal each day.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we understand that nutrition is a key part of health—which is a building block of opportunity, along with education and income. Regular, healthy meals are a must for children to be able to learn and grow.

As Julie Fletcher, Director of Support Services for Dallas ISD’s Food and Child Nutrition Services, explains, “A variety of studies have shown that there is a definite link between increased nutrition and increased school achievement by students. There’s a better attendance, there’s better cognitive ability, there’s better retention—and all those factors work into helping a student be the best that they can be.”

That’s why we partner with dozens of local school districts, nonprofits and other organizations to support the prevention of hunger and provide a necessary resource for hard-working families during the summertime months.

Click the video below to learn more about this important work. Then, read on to discover how we’ve supported our partners in meeting increased demand during COVID-19, what summer meals programming will look like this year and how you can get involved.

 

Working Together to Support North Texas Families

In North Texas, child hunger is a persistent problem that takes a community-wide solution. With that in mind, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas partnered with Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative in 2013 to launch the North Texas Summer & Supper Council (NTXSSC). NTXSSC supports a variety of summer meals and supper programs that provide millions of meals to children throughout Dallas. These include local school districts, such as Dallas and Garland ISDs, and nonprofits like CitySquareand Equal Heart.

This support is so important for families who rely on federal nutrition programs during the school year. “One of the benefits of summer meals for families is that it helps their home budget,” Fletcher says. “When a child is participating in free breakfast and lunch, that can save a family $30 or more per week from their food budget, which can be substantial for some families.”

Through NTXSSC, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and our partners help meal providers get the word out about free summer meals programs and even increase their distribution sites. This is especially important in Texas, which has one of the lowest summer meals participation rates in the country, ranking 48th in reaching children in need. Right now, just 14% of the nearly 3 million Texas children who receive free and reduced school meals access a summer meals program. This means many kids are probably missing meals or aren’t getting the nutrition they need.

Just 14% of the nearly 3 million Texas children who receive free and reduced school meals access a summer meals program

A COVID-19 Hunger Crisis

In a typical year, NTXSSC works with more than two dozen groups that serve more than 2 million meals to 55,000+ children.

However, in 2020 we saw demand for meals skyrocket as kids switched to remote learning in the spring, parents experienced job losses and many families were threatened with eviction.

When schools closed, our partners worked quickly to begin providing meals as soon as possible—even though the start of summer was still six weeks away.

Meal providers like Dallas ISD switched to a “grab-and-go” format to protect families and staff members. The district was even able to start distributing less often, providing a week’s worth of food at a time, for additional protection.

As a result of these and other important changes, our partners were able to serve more than 10.2 million meals in Dallas and Collin counties—more than four times the number of summer meals served during a normal year , says Ashley Douglas, senior director of the United Way Southern Dallas Thrives initiative.

During the height of COVID-19, summer meal providers served more than 10.2 million meals in Dallas and Collin counties—more than four times the number served during a normal year

This Year, Our Work Continues

Although many aspects of North Texas life have returned to business as usual, COVID-19 isn’t over. As Douglas points out, the work of NTXSSC and its partners was hugely amplified in 2020, which meant more meals served to more kids. But the increased attention was, of course, a result of the enormous need we saw during the height of the pandemic.

Today, many North Texas families are still struggling to find work and pay their bills. Meanwhile, staples like gas and groceries are costing more. This year, Douglas says, “The needs are even more pressing than before.”

For the 2021 summer break, local meal providers will start distributing meals the second week of June. To keep students and their families safe from COVID-19, Douglas says many providers will give people the option of picking up food in person or in a drive-through.

 

Looking for summer meals?
To find out where and when to access free summer meals, call 211 or text the word “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877877.

Douglas says parents should stay in touch with their local summer meal distribution sites and keep a close eye on their websites, since they may have to adapt to changing COVID-19 restrictions or recommendations throughout the summer.

 

Want to be a part of the change?

Now is the perfect time to join our movement and have a direct and positive impact on North Texas families. This summer, there are two easy ways to get involved:

  • Give: Investing in United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is one of the most impactful ways to create positive change right here at home. Your contribution will help support initiatives like the North Texas Supper & Summer Council, enabling our partners to serve even more families this summer. Click here to see all the ways you can give.
  • Volunteer: As we mentioned above, one of the challenges is getting the word out about free summer meals. But you can help! Throughout the summer, volunteers can bring awareness to local meal sites by posting on social media. You can also support local children by purchasing items from an Amazon wish list. Visit our volunteer page to view the wish list and sample social media posts.

Mr. Cooper and Vistra Energy Logo

A big thank you to Mr. Cooper Group and Vistra Corp., presenting sponsor and supporting sponsor, respectively, of the North Texas Supper & Summer Council this year. We appreciate your help in bringing awareness to the program and supporting the efforts of this year’s summer meals distributors.

This article was published on: Jun 10, 2021