As school lets out for the summer, students may not lose touch with their friends – but could lose the free or reduced-price meals they’d normally receive at school. More than 150 community organizations in Washington work to remedy that by sponsoring summer meal sites.

One challenge is making lower-income families aware of these programs – and for that, United Way of King County has enlisted the help of 80 Americorps workers. Lauren McGowan, director of the United Way chapter’s Basic Needs Program, said the team will publicize the programs, and also offer art, sports and learning activities to prompt kids to show up and stay awhile.

“The kids are not only getting a healthy meal,” she said, “but they’re really getting education and an opportunity to engage, so that they don’t fall behind their peers who may be going to a summer camp or having other opportunities during the summer.”

She said parents also appreciate having a safe place for their children during the day.

More than 770 summer meal sites operate across the state, including more than 200 in King County. They are housed in schools and churches, at parks and youth centers – and McGowan said the King County Library system has become an enthusiastic partner.

“Really sort of breaking the mold, thinking about not bringing food into the library – they are bringing food in,” she said. “They’ve opened up their doors to be a summer meal site, so kids can get access to food while they’re also getting access to literacy opportunities during the summer.”

According to a new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Washington summer meal programs serve an average of more than 38,000 kids a day – but that’s only 11 percent of those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year.

The FRAC summer meals report is online at