Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — More than 900,000 North Carolina students rely on the nutritious meals and snacks served during the school year through the School Breakfast, School Lunch, and Afterschool Meals Programs.

In 2020 alone, N.C. Summer Nutrition Programs served 27,966,843 summer meals, six times the number of meals served in 2019.

This summer, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has already enrolled 184 sponsors serving 2,718 meals. Summer Nutrition Programs can provide meals for children any time school is out and are offered to children and adolescents ages 18 and younger. Due to the ongoing pandemic, more children and their families are struggling to know where their next meal will come from.

To find free, healthy meals near you for children who are ages 18 and younger:

♦ Text “FoodNC” to 877-877 for information in English or “COMIDA” to 877-877 for information in Spanish,

♦ Call toll-free 1.866.3Hungry (1.866.348.6479) or 1.877.8Hambre (1.877.842.6273),

♦ Utilize the N.C. Site Finder mapping tool at http://childnutrition.ncpublicschools.gov, or

♦ Visit the USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder, https://www.fns.usda.gov/SummerFoodRocks.

Since North Carolina schools closed to students March 16 of last year due to COVID-19, more than 160 million meals have been served through the Summer Nutrition Program’s emergency feeding initiatives in order to support the state’s COVID-19 public health response. Local education agencies and community organizations serving as Summer Nutrition Program sponsors have been provided guidance regarding the requirements for personal hygiene, food safety and social distancing.

N.C. Summer Nutrition Programs are administered by NCDPI, with federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Summer Nutrition Programs are typically located in economically distressed areas in order to serve the most food-insecure vulnerable students. Meal sites may be located at schools, public housing centers, playgrounds, camps, parks, medical centers, faith-based facilities, libraries and other locations. Meals are served to eligible children at no cost. Registration and ID are not required.

Additional information regarding N.C. Summer Nutrition Programs may be found on the NCDPI, School Nutrition Division’s website. Citizens and organizations interested in getting involved as sites, activity providers or volunteers should contact the NCDPI Summer Nutrition Programs Team at summernutritionprogram@dpi.nc.gov.

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.) should contact the agency (state or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English. To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form (AD-3027) available online and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by: mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410; fax: (202) 690-7442; or email: program.intake@usda.gov.