MINNEAPOLIS - For most kids and teens, summer is a time for fun and freedom, but for a half-million kids in Minnesota, summer is a season without.
Hunger doesn't take a vacation with the estimated 500,000 Minnesota kids missing meals each day.
The Minneapolis Public Schools food delivery truck is part of the 600 programs across the state delivering free summer meals available to any child under 18, visiting parks across the metro each day.
"A lot of kids depend on it, I've gotten such rave reviews and it's growing," Johnson said, while dropping off meals at Jackson Square and Webber parks over lunch hour, as lines of kids raced to grab their lunch.
Minnesota ranks 23rd among 50 states in feeding children in the summer. This ranking is based on low participation rates for kids eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals. Minnesota’s participation rate for the summer feeding program is at 15 percent.
As CEO of the nonprofit Hunger Impact Partners, Ellie Lucas brainstormed a solution to the underutilized summer food programs, and along with her team, launched a new app for kids facing food insecurity, called Summer Eats.
The free app, available for download at the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, helps kids and families access 600 statewide free food sites with a simple swipe. It locates sites using GPS.
"We wanted to put the kid at the center, we wanted to find a way to empower the kid to locate the food, and that was the idea, to make access easy and they can eat a nutritious meal," she said.
The app also provides menus of meals, which has been popular among kids. Lucas says the app quickly expanded across Minnesota and is already showing potential of aggregating food sites for kids nationwide.
For the first time ever, Metro Transit partnered with Second Harvest Heartland food bank, promoting free summer meal sites along light rail and bus lines. The organizations are also teaming up to promote the free food sites through student summer pass sales.
"One of the major accessibility barriers is transportation, how do youth get to the sites so a partnership with Metro Transit seemed like a perfect fit, we can provide information on routes in targeted neighborhoods," said Pat Pearson, Second Harvest Heartland Hunger Programs Manager.
"It is a reality, one in six kids are at risk for hunger every day," Pearson added.
In Minneapolis, 48,000 kids are enrolled in K-12 schools and 31,000 of them (64 percent) are eligible for free/reduced-price meals. In St. Paul, 53,000 kids are enrolled in K-12 schools and 37,000 of them (70 percent) are eligible for free/reduced-price meals.
With no scarcity of help, the hope from organizations fighting hunger is that Minnesota kids will not have to worry about an empty stomach - just a fun-filled summer.