USDA's Summer Food Service Program served a record number of free meals despite fewer sites in fiscal year 2020

This is a double line graph showing Summer Food Service Program participation and sites for July in fiscal years 2009 to 2020

The USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) typically provides free nutritious meals to children and teens in low-income areas through qualifying organizations during unanticipated school closures from October through April or when schools are not in session, such as during summer break. In response to school and childcare provider closures caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, USDA expanded the scope and coverage of the SFSP by allowing qualifying organizations to serve free meals throughout the year and in all areas through the program. As a result, the program set a record in fiscal year 2020 for number of meals served. In July 2020, participation in the program reached a historical high of 4.7 million. However, the increase in participation was not matched by an increase in SFSP sites. The number of SFSP free meal sites, including sites open to all children and sites serving only enrolled children, had steadily increased over much of the last decade, peaking at 50,080 in July 2017 before declining to 47,471 by July 2019 and 37,498 in July 2020. This chart is based on a chart in the USDA, Economic Research Service’s COVID-19 Working Paper: Filling the Pandemic Meal Gap: Disruptions to Child Nutrition Programs and Expansion of Free Meal Sites in the Early Months of the Pandemic, released October 12, 2021.

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