Earlier this month, a Facebook post went viral, spreading across the news feeds of thousands of people with what seemed like an outlandish claim: Simply by texting the word “FOOD” to 877-877 you can find a nearby location where free meals are available for kids all summer long.
To some, it seemed too good to be true. But it’s real.
All across the country, schools and community groups run summer meals sites where kids can eat breakfast and lunch – absolutely free. The programs are intended to fill the gap for children who benefit from school breakfast and lunch programs during the rest of the year.
The federal government estimates that 4 million children in the United States face hunger during the summer months.
“These free meals programs are a critical way to ensure kids have access to healthy food during the summer months,” said Derrick Lambert, a program manager with No Kid Hungry. “But we found that not enough families knew about them.”
To solve this problem, the summer meals texting service was born. No Kid Hungry, a national organization that works to end childhood hunger, worked with the USDA to develop the program and runs it each summer. The service is free, and open to anyone. A parent, grandparent or caregiver can simply text the word “FOOD” to 877-877 and the system prompts the user to provide their address or zip code, which is used to provide the location and service times of up to three nearby summer meals sites.
The service is also available in Spanish, by texting the word “COMIDA” instead of “FOOD”.
The attention and disbelief has actually helped the program. Once enough people started posting about it on Facebook and other social media channels, the popular fact-checking website Snopes wrote about it, rating the claim “true”. Thanks in part to this attention, the program has grown significantly, reaching a lot more kids in need. Last year there were 55,000 texts, but this year the service has already received 350,000 texts.