Nonprofit develops summer food app

A new mobile app is showing Minnesota kids where they can find no-cost meals this summer.

The free app, called Summer Eats Minnesota, shows the location of summer food-program sites across Minnesota as well as their menus and days and hours of operation. Kids can show up for meals at these sites, which include community centers, libraries and schools.

The Minneapolis-based nonprofit led the development of the app in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minnesota Department of Education. It rolled out the app last month.

The app had over 1,000 downloads as of late June, according to Ellie Lucas, CEO of Hunger Impact Partners.

“Summer can be a difficult time for kids because they don’t get regular school meals,” she said in a news release. “This app is an easy way to find free summer meals, and we hope everyone – both children and adults – will download Summer Eats Minnesota so it will be available around mealtimes.”

In an interview, Lucas said this is the first such app in the nation and took about five weeks to create. She said the organization got feedback from students through focus groups at Minneapolis North High School, adding that almost everyone has access to a smartphone.

The nonprofit has done outreach to all superintendents in Minnesota as well as principals, legislators and nutrition directors of school districts, Lucas said. The organization has also promoted it through local broadcast interviews and truck wraps.

“Anybody that we’ve talked to, we’ve just promoted it like crazy,” she said.

In the release, the nonprofit said that Minnesota ranks 23rd out of the 50 states in feeding children during the summer, with summer food programs operating at 43 percent capacity.

That means that nearly two-thirds of kids in the state who are eligible for the federally reimbursed summer meals are going without, Lucas said in the release.

“We estimate there’s a potential of 17 million meals for children in the summer, with an estimated $33 million in corresponding federal reimbursements,” she said.

Bertrand Weber, MPS’ culinary and wellness services director, said knowing where to find a healthy meal is crucial for many of the district’s families.

“The summer menu is designed to provide a healthy blend of kids’ favorites that incorporate whole grain goodness, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and milk,” he said.

Summer Eats Minnesota is available in Apple’s app store and the Google Play store.