The charitable arm of the Minnesota Vikings is reaching out to put food in front of hungry children in the state.
On Wednesday, the Vikings announced a partnership with Hunger Solutions Minnesota and Second Harvest Heartland to launch the Vikings Children’s Fund Summer Lunch Program, which will help secure up to 200,000 additional meals for Minnesota children this summer. The Vikings have pledged $92,000 towards the effort, which is helping to expand the USDA-sponsored Summer Food Service Program.
“The Vikings Children’s Fund aims to positively impact the well-being of our children and help provide them with the means to be healthy, strong and vibrant members of our community as they grow,” said Steve LaCroix, vice president of sales and marketing, chief marketing officer with the Minnesota Vikings. “Proper nutrition will always be essential to a child’s well-being, which is why the Vikings are honored to participate in this program with Hunger Solutions Minnesota and Second Harvest Heartland.”
During the school year, 270,000 Minnesota school children receive free or reduced-price meals, but only 54,000 children receive free or reduced-price meals during the summer months, according to the Minnesota Department of Education, which administers both the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program.
“There is an incredible discrepancy in the number of children receiving nourishing meals during the summer months compared to the school year,” said Alice Seagren, Minnesota’s Education Commissioner. “We know that many Minnesota families struggle to provide healthy and satisfying meals for their children during the summer, which is why the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program is so critical. We are grateful for the generosity, ingenuity and leadership the Minnesota Vikings, Hunger Solutions Minnesota and Second Harvest Heartland have provided in improving the participation rate in Minnesota.”
The partners announced the assistance program at Cityview Performing Arts Magnet School in Minneapolis with representatives from each of the organizations, including quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive ends Ray Edwards and Jayme Mitchell and mascot Viktor.
The players talked about their nutrition habits, both good and bad, and stressed the importance of a healthy diet. Edwards said he wanted to get involved because of his own personal experiences.
“The thing that gets me involved is that I used to be one of these kids on free lunch and reduced lunch and things like that and took advantage of that growing up because I came from a single-parent home and there was not a lot of food in the house for a growing boy,” Edwards said.
“If you’re hungry, you start doing things that you wouldn’t normally do.”
The players preached their nutrition message to kids at a school assembly.
One of the leading contributing factors to low participation rates in the Summer Food Service program in Minnesota is a lack of sites that serve food. While more than 2,000 schools statewide served free or reduced-price meals during the 2007/2008 school year, only 370 sites served them during the summer of 2008. The Vikings Children’s Fund Summer Lunch Program is helping to expand the Summer Food Service Program by using grant money from the Minnesota Vikings to secure new meal sites and expand the reach of existing sites. The Vikings’ involvement is expected to add 40 new sites.
According to Rob Zeaske, executive director of Second Harvest Heartland, securing an additional 200,000 meals for Minnesota children this summer will result in a 14 percent increase in the number of total free or reduced-price meals served when school is out. In 2008, 1.4 million meals were served in Minnesota through the Summer Food Service Program. The Vikings Children’s Fund Summer Lunch Program aims to increase that number to 1.6 million.
For more information on the Vikings Children’s Fund Summer Lunch Program, visit the program’s web site by clicking this link.