Minneapolis' free kids meals were going to waste. Now there's an app for that.

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Summer food programs in Minnesota traditionally operate at less than 50 percent capacity, which means kids are going hungry even when there's food available.

What we have here is failure to communicate, Ellie Lucas surmised. The numbers supported her theory.

In Minnesota there are almost 500,000 kids regularly missing meals. In Minneapolis last summer, only 15 percent of the 30,000 children who qualify for free and reduced school meals were taking advantage of the free chow offered during summer break at a multitude of schools, parks, and community centers.

The locations tend to be situated in areas with higher concentrations of poverty, like Folwell School, Elliot Park Rec Center, and North High.

"We've just got too many [kids] in our state who don't get enough to eat," Lucas says. "During summertime, it can be even worse because they're not in school. Here we had all of these places preparing free, nutritious meals over the course of the summer, yet only a small percentage were being consumed. We saw it as a situation where what was available [to eat] could be communicated in more effective ways. Which, in turn, would mean fewer kids going hungry."

Lucas, CEO of the nonprofit Hunger Impact Partners, thinks she has the answer.

Powered by GPS, the group's Summer Eats MN mobile app shows the 80-plus locations of food sites sponsored by the Minneapolis Public Schools, their menus, and days and hours of operation. Users will see on their phone the distance and directions to the sites nearest their location.

The app is free and available at the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

Lunch and an afternoon snack will be served at Lyndale Farmstead Park on Bryant Avenue S. on Monday through Friday starting June 19, for instance. Wednesday's snack will be Cheez-Its and tangerines.

Thursday's lunch menu is cold-cut sub sandwiches, fresh fruit and veggies, and a cookie.

"You don't have to pre-register. Just show up," says Lucas. "Anyone [age] 18 and under is eligible for the free meals. With this app what we wanted to do is really empower the kids. They're out and about this summer and so they download the app, click on it, and say if they're in Elliot Park playing, they see where the closest meal is and can send it to their friends where they can meet up and eat together.

"No children should go hungry when they’re not in school. We hope this app helps make sure no one goes hungry this summer so that when they go back to school, they're ready to learn.” 


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