Summer meals transportation barriers and solutions

by Joy Bentley, Stephanie Chan, Deborah Swerdlow, Theresa Toll, Megan Tracz

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) aims to ensure that children who receive free and reduced-price school meals can continue to receive healthy food when school is out. However, only 12 percent of eligible children nationwide participate in SFSP. One reason why summer meals programs are underutilized is that many families lack safe, reliable transportation to a summer meals site. Although far from the only barrier to summer meals participation, this transportation barrier has been identified by summer meals sponsors and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry (NKH) campaign as a pressing area of concern because even the best planned, most engaging summer meals program will not succeed if children cannot reach the site.

This project aims to answer three research questions: 1) In what ways are state agencies, local transit providers, and summer meals sponsors and sites building partnerships to overcome transportation barriers to summer meals programs? 2) What practices are associated with promising partnerships between summer meals sponsors and sites and state or local transit providers? and 3) How can the No Kid Hungry (NKH) Center for Best Practices support summer meals stakeholders such as state agencies, local transit providers, and summer meals sponsors and sites that are trying to overcome transportation barriers? Given the relatively few communities that are implementing transportation solutions and the early stages of those partnerships, we have limited our findings to identifying practices associated with promising partnerships.

Our research design consisted of a literature review and semi-structured interviews with stakeholders involved in summer meals, including national agencies, state agencies, local transit providers, summer meals sponsors and sites (who also received a pre-interview questionnaire to collect background information), and advocacy organizations at the national, state, and local level. We found that the local and state context matters greatly for determining how to address transportation barriers and that cross-sector collaboration is a fundamental underpinning to promising partnerships. We also found that transportation partnerships tend to fall into two categories: bringing meals to sites (making it easier for sites to be closer to children by eliminating the need for on-site food preparation) and bringing children to sites, either through fixed-route service, demand-response service, or vehicles that are owned by the summer meals program or shared with other community groups. For each area of our findings (cross-sector collaboration, meals to sites, and children to sites), we identified practices that appear to be associated with promising partnerships. We also compiled recommendations for the main stakeholders involved in transportation partnerships: state agencies, local transit providers, and summer meals sponsors and sites.

We concluded our research with five recommendations for the NKH Center for Best Practices as they support stakeholders trying to overcome summer meals transportation barriers:

  • Include information about transportation barriers in existing and future NKH summer meals resources so stakeholders begin thinking about addressing transportation early on.
  • Draw on our findings, analysis, and recommendations for summer meals sponsors and sites to create a toolkit about how sponsors and sites can reduce transportation barriers.
  • Share our recommendations for state agencies and local transit providers with the intended audiences, both directly and through national agencies that work with them.
  • Collect more information about existing summer meals-transportation partnerships.
  • Evaluate transportation partnerships to confirm the promising practices we identified.

This is a summary of a research study undertaken at the George Washington University in 2015. See the full study here.

  • World Hunger Education
    P.O. Box 29015
    Washington, D.C. 20017
  • For the past 40 years, since its founding in 1976, the mission of World Hunger Education Service is to undertake programs, including Hunger Notes, that
    • Educate the general public and target groups about the extent and causes of hunger and malnutrition in the United States and the world
    • Advance comprehension which integrates ethical, religious, social, economic, political, and scientific perspectives on the world food problem
    • Facilitate communication and networking among those who are working for solutions
    • Promote individual and collective commitments to sustainable hunger solutions.