Chicago Public Schools

Summer meal programs launch to help Chicago-area students

Thousands of free meals are made available each summer by a variety of programs

NBC Universal, Inc.

With many Chicago-area children heading toward summer vacation, a variety of groups are stepping up to help provide meals to those in need over the summer months.

The Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora is one of dozens of sites doing just that, with the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Summer Food Service Program giving out breakfasts, lunches and snacks each weekday.

According to the group’s website, an average of 7,600 children under the age of 18 participated each day in 2023, with more than 285,000 meals served at 112 sites.

“If we weren’t here doing these meals, they wouldn’t have summer meals. Kids depend on meals from school, and when school is out, hunger for kids goes up, so if we weren’t here giving out these meals, they probably would not have lunch today,” Chief Impact Officer Jen Lamplough said.

According to the group, meals include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and meet USDA meal guidelines.

The program is funded by the Department of Agriculture and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.  

“These are tailor-made meals for kids. They’re easy, they’re fun, they’re delicious. It’s a great way to get meals to kids. It’s a great way to get nutrition in them. Otherwise, they would be either eating at home or waiting until dinnertime,” Lamplough said.

A variety of parks, churches and schools participate in the program, according to the group. No registration and no ID are required for the program, which runs through Aug. 16. Those wanting to participate can text the word “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304304 for additional information, or visit the Food Bank’s website.

Several other groups are also offering free meals for students, including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which participates in a Rise & Shine Illinois Summer Meals program. More information on eligibility and additional resources can be found on the group’s website.

Finally, Chicago Public Schools will offer free meals throughout the summer months to students through a variety of programs. While some sites are lunch-only locations, others will offer breakfasts and lunches, according to the CPS website.

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