Seattle Summer Meals Program aims to provide over 100,000 free meals to youth
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Seattle Summer Meals Program aims to provide over 100,000 free meals to youth

Seattle Summer Meals Program aims to provide over 100,000 free meals to youth

By Kiara Doyal, Seattle average

Last week, the Seattle Human Services Department launched its annual Summer Food Service program, known as the Summer Meals Program, at 62 locations across the city. The program provides free, healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks during the summer months for children ages 1 to 18. Each participant can receive a maximum of two meals or one meal and one snack per day, which must be eaten on site.

For many years, the Summer Meals Program has consistently provided free, healthy meals to the community through close partnerships with Seattle Public Schools, which provide the meals, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department, and the United Way of King County.

“This program supports children and youth enrolled in summer programs in Seattle and others who may not be getting adequate nutrition at home,” says Dr. Shukri Olow, director of the Youth and Family Empowerment Division at the Human Services Department. “Our program helps fill the gap when school is out. This year, we expect to provide more than 100,000 meals and almost as many snacks.”

The program is typically open Monday through Friday, with some locations occasionally open on weekends. Participating facilities include outdoor parks, community centers, and religious organizations, and include some that are bringing positive impact to the Seattle community.

For Temesgen Melashu, after-school meal coordinator for the Department of Social Services’ summer nutrition program, the program represents a moment of closure, as she herself was once a participant.

“It’s a pretty big program, and we can serve anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000 meals in two and a half months,” Melashu says. “Every year, our goals obviously increase in the number of meals served to expand our reach. I was a youth who participated in this program at a young age, and I see firsthand the impact it can have and how important it is to have these meals available. These meals really help youth get meals that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to get during the school year.”

“Coming out of COVID-19, we understood the impact it had on many community organizations, so this year we are in the process of reintroducing this program to many of our facilities and the community at large, and working with only 62 facilities is a bit of a reduction,” she added.

Despite the reduction in participating locations, the goal, according to Melashu, remains the same: to serve as many meals as possible, to as many youth as possible. By serving thousands of meals each summer, the program ensures that anyone interested in receiving free meals has a chance to do so.

Alta Green, a lead teacher at Wee Are the World Summer Camp, is part of one of the largest camp groups participating in the Summer Meal Program, a program that is valued for its ability to help those in need by providing them with free, healthy meals.

“We try to get to the starting point every day and see new faces,” Green says. “They (the program) make my kids feel safe, and the program makes me feel safe. It’s really amazing that Seattle provides all of this for us, and the Seattle lunch program is something we’re absolutely committed to.”

Melashu is optimistic that more facilities will sign up to participate in the program to help families in need as the cost of living and food continues to rise.

“Since finances are really tough for a lot of families, this program is a great way to ease that burden for a lot of families,” Melashu says. “Funnily enough, I’m glad that the youth have the opportunity to get outside, spend time not only with their friends but with other youth, and just have a meal and be really well-rounded as kids.”

The program is expected to operate through August 23, 2024. All Seattle residents, regardless of immigration status, are eligible for City of Seattle programs and services unless otherwise noted.

For specific location information, please see our 2024 Summer Food Drive Program location map or email (email protected).