More Michigan families are able to feed their kids this summer, thanks to 3 new programs

More Michigan families are able to feed their kids this summer, thanks to 3 new programs

By Lucas Henkel

July 11, 2024

Families now have more options for saving money on groceries during the summer months—including free meals for Michigan kids 18 and under. 

During the school year, hundreds of thousands of Michigan students receive free lunches at school. It’s a daily lifeline for parents, who can then use that extra grocery money in other ways to support their families. 

But during the summer, those kids lose access to school lunches. And beyond the rumbling tummies, research has shown that food insecurity during the summer can lead to “the summer slide”—a decline in academic knowledge and skills over break. While some summer learning loss is common, it disproportionately impacts low-income students.

“Unfortunately, hunger does not take a vacation in the summer months, and we know that far too often children lose critical access to meals when schools are out,” said Dr. Phil Knight, the Executive Director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, during a recent press conference at Waverly Intermediate School in Lansing. He spoke as his audience—dozens of young Michigan students—eagerly ate their breakfasts in the school cafeteria. 

“Whether it’s grocery benefits to purchase food, or meals served within the community or on-the-go, families need options to help feed their children during the summer.”

Knight is one of several community leaders in Michigan to recently stand alongside Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) as she announced new summer meal options for all school-aged children. 

“Every summer, we’re going to be able to have meals for you,” said Stabenow at the press conference in Lansing. 

As part of Michigan’s “Top 10 Strategic Education Plan,” which was approved by the State Board of Education and signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, Michigan’s Summer Food Service Program has now expanded to be there as a support tool for even more families. 

“We have set up all these flexibilities so that there’s more opportunities to pick up food and more opportunity to get food for more than one day,” Stabenow said.

Meet Up and Eat Up is a program that gives free meals to any Michigan kid 18 and under. They just need to show up—no paperwork, no proof of need, and no questions asked. It’s funded by the US Department of Agriculture and overseen by the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Nutrition Services. Last summer, it served more than 4.5 million healthy meals at over 1,400 sites across Michigan. (Find one near you here.)

Melissa Cole, head librarian at the Lansing locations of the Capital Area District Library—a Meet Up and Eat Up site—said offering meals during the summer helps relieve families who are worried about feeding their kids—and may also help students actually look forward to school starting back up.

“Some people have talked about how for real little kids, [Meet Up and Eat Up] is nice because they kind of get an idea of what a school lunch is like,” said Cole in an interview with The ‘Gander. “Some of them are going to go to kindergarten next year, and they get to experience a school lunch before they go.”

A second program, the Rural Non-Congregate Summer Food Service Program, allows families in rural parts of the state to pick up one or multiple meals for free. If they’re unable to pick them up, the free meals can be delivered. 

At the press conference, Stabenow introduced a third option for Michigan families.

“Now we have a third thing, which is really important that we’ve not had before, and that is the ability to give families some extra resources through something called the Summer EBT Card,” she said.

Through Summer EBT, eligible families—like those participating in programs like SNAP or Medicaid, or with a child who qualifies for free or reduced-price meals at school—receive $120 per child to buy groceries during the summer. 

Stabenow said programs like Summer EBT are tools families can use as they look for ways to stretch their dollars—while also keeping their kids healthy and happy.

“So whether it’s going to get milk or whether it’s other things that you need, for the first time ever in our country, we will have this $120 benefit for families to have more flexibility.”

To find a Meet Up and Eat Up site near you, call 211, text FOOD to 304-304, or visit their website


  • Lucas Henkel

    Lucas Henkel is a multimedia reporter who strives to inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The 'Gander, Lucas served as a journalist for the Lansing City Pulse.

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