Madison-area students ‘reap’ the benefits of free summer meal program

Program runs from June 18- Aug. 10
Madison-area students ‘reap’ the benefits of free summer meal program

Come this weekend, school’s out for summer for the thousands of Madison Metropolitan School District students. While months of vacation spell lots of fun for kids, they can also be a time of struggle for families, who are unable to afford food.

Luckily, a local food group is stepping in to help.

During the school year, REAP’s farm-to-school snack program brings locally-grown fruits and vegetables to more than 300 classrooms at 11 Madison-area elementary schools. But their work doesn’t end once the cafeterias and classrooms clear out for the summer.

From June 18 through Aug. 10, REAP provides free meals and educational activities at local parks to kids and their families. Every day, children 18 and under can go to one of 17 Madison-area schools or a local community site, like area parks, hospitals, and community centers, for free meals.

The program is federally-funded, the same way free and subsidized lunches are funded during the school year. Most sites serve breakfast and lunch, while others serve snacks and supper, too. Much of the food served is grown locally, which helps area farmers. The Madison Metropolitan School District’s Farm-to-School project is a partnership between REAP and the district to source food directly from local farms for school meals.

“The meals always have a nutritious balance: they have a grain, a protein, fruit, vegetable, and milk,” said Farm-to-School program director REAP food group, Natasha Smith. Oftentimes, the meal is a sandwich, with locally-grown produce as a side.

Age is the only restriction, at most sites, and no identification is needed.

“Certainly in this day and age, we have folks who are worried about identification and you don’t have to worry about that with this program,” said Smith. “All kids and teens can show up and eat for free, no questions asked, as a way to really expand access to all the kids who are potentially hungry during the summer.”

About 25,000 students are affected by REAP’s work in the Madison area.

Elver Park, Leopold Park, Centro Hispano, and Southdale Park offer free meals not just for kids, but for their parents, too.

To find out which schools and parks offer meals this summer, visit , or text “Food” to 877-877 to find a site near you.