MISSOULA, MT – Summer vacation is here and with it, lazy mornings and children playing all day. However, summer can also be a difficult time for families who rely on schools meals to make ends meet. Fortunately, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) helps fill this gap by providing free, nutritious meals throughout the summer.

SFSP provides meals to children 18 and under at no cost. There is no requirement for identification or paperwork, children can simply show up and eat. Often times, there are fun, educational activities provided, or the site is at a neighborhood park or school playground. SFSP is a well-rounded program that helps connect children to education and nutrition during the summer.

SFSP sponsors are community organizations such as schools, nonprofits, community foundations, or religious organizations. The program is a USDA nutrition program and is administered by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI).

Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) partners with OPI and other statewide organizations to help promote the program by providing outreach materials to community partners. MFBN also works to expand the program to underserved areas by encouraging the startup of new SFSP sites and providing technical support to new and existing SFSP sites. In addition to outreach and technical support, MFBN also creates educational materials, such as our new 2016 Montana SFSP Report. This report measures the program’s impact at county and state levels and highlights best practices.

In 2016, there were 224 SFSP sites in Montana, serving over 630,000 meals between June and August. Still, the program is underutilized. Less than 25% of students who regularly rely on free or reduced price school lunch participated in SFSP in 2016. By promoting the program through word of mouth, advertising in local media, and utilizing the program, communities can help to strengthen the program.

To find sites near you, text FOOD to 877-877 or check the list online.