Summer meals: District's FRED program improves participation

The school district reports that its FRED program improved the participation rate for the summer meals program by almost 400 percent. - Mirror file
The school district reports that its FRED program improved the participation rate for the summer meals program by almost 400 percent.
— image credit: Mirror file

FRED, a new program that Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) rolled out this past summer as a combination of a summer academics and meals program, improved the participation rate for the meals program by almost 400 percent.

FRED, which stands for "Fun. Read. Eat. Dream.," served nearly 41 percent of the 33,470 total summer meals, according to Mary Asplund, Nutrition Services Director for the school district. That amounts to 13,711 meals served by FRED.

"956 average meals were served each day, with 319 of those from FRED," Asplund told the Federal Way School Board during its Sept. 10 meeting.

Various community partners, among them the Multi-Service Center (MSC) and Communities in Schools (CIS) also helped increase the reach of the summer meals/education program between 2012 and 2013, Asplund noted.

"That resulted in an almost 400 percent increase in meals served," she said. "In 2012, there were 8,449 meals served at school sites only. In 2013, there were 33,470 meals served between FRED, our vended partners (MSC and CIS), and school sites. FRED has staying power with our children. The last day we served them was our second highest day."

The new program, with its green repurposed buses featuring a frog on the side, visited high-need areas throughout Federal Way from June 24 to Aug. 23. The program ran Monday through Thursday, and provided children with breakfast, lunch and a late-afternoon snack.

Initially, FWPS had planned to only run the program through Aug. 1, but the response was so positive that the program was extended beyond the initial dates, Asplund said.

"As we started to get into it and saw the response we were getting from the children, we saw this and decided we were going to do this the whole summer," she said. "We jumped into the deep end of the pool, not knowing where the edge was."

Besides serving meals during the summer, FRED also focused on education for children who participated, Asplund said.

"If you were to visit some of these sites, these kids were quietly eating and visiting. They were coloring, playing games, they were on the computers," Asplund said.

It was this combination, Asplund believes, that gave FRED such drawing power.

"Why would kids keep coming? We speculate it's not just the meals, not just the academic programs, it's the blend. It's also that social interaction, a healthy dose of fun every single day, and the staff and kid relationships," she said.

Asplund said that 50 percent of FRED is funded from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, while the remainder was came from donations by community groups, district funds, and partner organizations like United Way-Seattle/King County, the City of Federal Way, the Franciscan Foundation, CIS, South King Fire and Rescue, the Federal Way Rotary, Federal Way Lions and others.

Asplund noted that those involved with FRED are already thinking to the future, and have ideas that include pulling another bus into service, extending the days of operation to Monday through Friday or even into the weekends, having the program run during the school year after school, and also expanding the program's horizons in regards to the areas it serves.

Board members were enthused about FRED's success.

"I had a wonderful time talking not only only to the folks in the bus and passing the food out, but the parents that were in the parking lot, enjoying their time there," said Claire Wilson, referencing her visit to Greystone Meadows Apartments. "I think it's an incredible way to engage families…Just looking at the numbers, it was beautiful."

Board member Danny Peterson was enthusiastic about FRED, citing the fact that the program received national exposure in both print and television media.

"I commend us taking this on, and I think the rest of the country is looking at us going, 'That's a great idea,'" he said. "I think we can be consistent in leading the charge on this, year in and year out, and investing in our kids in the summer."

"I just want to say, the numbers are amazing," added board member Ed Barney.


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