Weekly during the 2019 United Way of Crookston campaign, the Times is featuring a different United Way partner agency. Featured today is the the Eat Uunited Summer Food Service Program.

    The Summer Food Service Program is a nationally funded program as part of the National School Lunch Program that was designed to fill the gap and provide healthy, nutritious meals to all children in the community when school is out. This program encourages non-profit organizations in underserved areas to provide free meals to all children age 0-18 on a first come, first serve basis. While this program has been available to some communities for a number of years, the changes to the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 helped make summer feeding a priority. The Crookston Public School District instated the Eat United Summer Food Service Program in June of 2015 with the financial aid of the USDA and the United Way of Crookston.

    Eat United has continued to expand within the last four summers to provide tasteful, nutrient-dense food to an increasing number of children at two separate open locations in Crookston. The program typically runs for eight weeks, following the park board schedule. Meals are served from 11:30am – 12:30pm on a first come, first serve basis at Highland Park Complex under the Lion’s shelter and at Wildwood Park. Highland Park Complex has been a popular site during the last four summers, feeding students in park and rec activities, neighborhood children, and young families taking advantage of the playground and splash park. Wildwood Park was the newest addition to the program in 2018, which allowed Eat United to reach children from other areas in town. The Eat United Program also provides meals to the summer care program located at Washington School. This site is intended for the children directly involved in the summer care program and is not open to the public. Eat United reaches children from neighborhoods in Crookston not accessible by foot with the help of the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council. During all four years of this program, Tri-Valley has provided a free bus throughout Crookston to transport participating students to and from the feeding sites. This free service has helped the Eat United program to reach children who are not within walking distance of Highland and Wildwood Parks.

    Over the past four summers, the Eat United Summer Food Service Program has served 16,623 free meals to children in the Crookston community as well as 462 meals to paying adults. Summer of 2018 was the programs best summer to date, serving on average over 140 free meals to children each day. The success of this program is due to a number of organizations working together for the betterment of the community. Crookston Public Schools runs and oversees the program. The USDA reimburses Crookston Schools for each meal served and the United Way of Crookston provides additional funding to cover extra costs, such as labor to make and transport the meals to each site. The Tri-Valley Opportunity Council provides free bus services throughout town so students can access the sites. The City of Crookston’s Parks and Recreation Department has allowed Eat United to use their parks each summer, keeping them clean and maintained each day. Also, there have been a number of volunteers serving the students over the summers from different organizations including the United Way of Crookston, Cathedral School, Trinity Lutheran Church, Tri-Valley Foster Grandparent Program, Polk County Public Health, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, American Crystal Sugar, University of Minnesota Extension, RiverView Health, New Flyer, Crookston Chamber of Commerce, Altru Clinic, and the Lion’s Club. Eat United would not be available to our community without the collaborative efforts of all of these organizations.

    Donations provided to the United Way of Crookston go to a number of different community focused projects, programs, and organizations including the Eat United Summer Food Service Program. For example, even a $10.00 donation would provide approximately three meals to students in the community. Crookston Public Schools and the United Way of Crookston looks forward to the summer of 2019, where the Eat United program can serve a number familiar faces as well as children coming out for a meal for the first time!

    Questions or comments regarding the Eat United Summer Food Service Program can be directed to Anna Ogaard-Brekken at 218-281-5313 x 7 or annaogaard@isd593.org.