The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded program administered by the States that reimburses organizations that serve children meals during summer months when school is out. Unfortunately, SFSP is one of the most underutilized federal programs, with around only 10% of children who are eligible for the program receiving meals. There are hundreds of organizations throughout the country feeding hungry children through the SFSP. Healing Waters Family Center in Denver, Colorado is an example of how an organization can use the creativity and partnership-building that is allowed and encouraged in the SFSP to feed more hungry children int their communities.
Healing Waters Family Center is lead by Senior Pastor Joseito Velasquez. The organization's journey to becoming a SFSP sponsor began in 2010 when Pastor Velasquez attended an SFSP informational webinar. An SFSP sponsor is an organization that is approved by the state to serve summer meals to eligible hungry kids and then get reimbursed for every meal they serve. Eighty percent of the community surrounding Healing Waters in Denver, CO lives below the federal poverty line. With this knowledge no doubt in his mind, the SFSP webinar emboldened the Pastor's desire to feed the needy in his community. His vision was larger than simply providing meals; Pastor Velasquez also wanted to provide his community with spiritual nourishment and refer them to other county agencies that could tend to their needs.
Healing Waters partnered with Hunger Free Colorado, the local school district, private organizations, and the local police and fire departments to serve over 5,000 meals in their first year of operating the SFSP. The site was open every day to serve breakfast and lunch. Between the two meals, Healing Waters provided different activities for the participants, such as sports, art projects, field trips, and personal development lectures. USDA Food and Nutrition Consumer Service Under Secretary Kevin Concannon stated, "When I arrived at Healing Waters, about 35 children were taking part in a lesson about important qualities young people should have, such as kindness and faith." Healing Waters also seamlessly connected participants and their families with other agencies in the Denver area upon developing a relationship with them and learning about their needs.
Healing Waters now has expanded its summer feeding operation by enlisting the help of smaller churches in the community. Pastor Velasquez helped convince these smaller churches to become summer feeding sites, which would afford more children access to free summer meals.
All the great work initiated by Healing Waters Family Center began by attending an informational webinar on SFSP, just like the ones we're hosting this year in 2013 from now though the beginning of April. If you are interested, you can register to attend by clicking here. If you are not able to attend the webinar, you can learn the same information by visiting the FNS webinars library page. Let the change in your community begin with you!