Advancing Summer Meals through Collective Impact

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For kids, summertime should mean food, friends and fun. But for kids who rely on school meals, summer can be a time of uncertainty about where and when they’ll have access to healthy food. In 2013, of the 21 million kids that received free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year, only 3 million kids (14%) received free meals during the summer. In many communities, a lack of intentional collaboration among current and potential players inhibits large gains in summer meals. Individual players may make incremental improvement on their own piece of the summer meals puzzle, and some organizations, like sponsors and sites, may collaborate with each other to execute their respective duties. In order to understand the pervasive barriers in summer meals and identifying resources to address those challenges will likely be unrealized without more intentional collaboration.

In two U.S. cities, however, significant results were achieved through intentional collaboration around summer meals:

  • Detroit: a collaborative effort prevented the loss of 200 summer meals sites in 2012 and helped achieve a 29% increase in summer meals in 2013.
  • Baltimore: a collaborative effort helped achieve a 10% increase in summer meals in 2013.

What is different in these cities? Share Our Strength’s Center for Best Practices partnered with Community Wealth Partners, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and the Baltimore Partnership to End Childhood Hunger to highlight the stories of collaboration occurring in these two cities and to better understand the potential intentional collaboration has to improve results around summer meals in other locations.

In both Detroit and Baltimore, the collaboration between summer meals players reflected the building blocks of collective impact, a process of strategically and deliberately aligning the efforts of a diverse group of stakeholders to collectively pursue significant, lasting change at the community-level. By pursuing the collective impact model, these groups saw a number of powerful benefits, including strategic coordination of resources, alleviation of ‘red tape’ barriers and collective recognition of regulatory challenges, and opportunities for a cohesive, region-wide awareness campaign.

The experiences of Detroit and Baltimore bring to light important considerations for other communities about the value of collaboration. Collaboration around summer meals can lead to broader cooperation around issues of childhood hunger. Collaboration involving a broad range of stakeholders at the local and state level can lead to sustained, long-term results. Involving government “intrapreneurs” and local “influencers” will enhance the success of a collaboration.

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