Summer food grant makes more family meals a reality at Oakland Livingston Agency

A volunteer serves meals at the Baldwin Center Meet Up and Eat Up site in Pontiac.

Family meals are often lauded as a way to improve relationships, promote healthier food choices and build language skills in children. But it’s not always possible for families to eat together. Summer can be a particularly challenging time when children are participating in summer food programs like Meet Up and Eat Up, which provide free meals to those 18 and under.

In the past, the Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (OLHSA) would have to turn away parents who asked for a meal at its summer food sites. But thanks to a grant from United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the organization is able to make family meals possible for more families.

“The kids who need the food come every day, and when they can eat with their parents, it really creates a nice ritual,” said China Aquino, assistant director for nutrition at OLHSA. “There’s a sense of family and friendship at those sites.”

Innovation and expansion

United Way for Southeastern Michigan works with our partners to create a culture of wellness. Together, we ensure that families can meet their basic needs.

This year, we issued $250,000 in mini-grants to six additional Meet Up and Eat Up meal sponsors like OLHSA. The funds allow the organizations to invest in innovative and strategic projects in the program this summer. Funding will also go to four organizations to provide enrichment support to summer meal sites.

The partnership is about more than money. United Way works to create long-term impact on the health and well-being of children in our region. We work with our partners and empower them to explore new ideas and find innovative solutions to problems. The aim is to improve summer meal sites and grow participation.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Health and Basic Needs Manager Katherine Fuller and her team met with site sponsors across the region to discuss how we could help them drive participation and increase impact.

“We listened to their goals and we used that information to develop strategies that would help push their programs forward,” Katherine said. “It’s exciting to see what these organizations are doing to increase access to healthy meals.”

Trying new things

OLHSA currently operates 40 Meet Up and Eat Up sites across Pontiac. It plans to add more if the need grows.

In 2018, the organization began offering adult meals at several of its sites. Participation increased at the mobile locations where families could eat together. Last summer, the organization served 28,007 meals. With the mini-grant from United Way, the agency is on-pace to serve even more this summer.

In addition to providing adult meals and increasing the number of sites, the additional funding is allowing OLHSA to explore providing weekend food vouchers to families who participate in the program.

The organization is also planning to use funds to improve staff quality and reduce turnover through new hiring practices and training.

And, most importantly, they’re connecting families through food.

Many of the kids OLHSA serves come from food-insecure households so there’s little room in the budget to experiment with new, healthier recipes. With Meet Up and Eat Up, they can try new things without worry — and perhaps even find a new favorite.

“When kids see their parents eating a meal, they’re more likely to try it,” China said. “It’s important for us to be able to provide an inviting and approachable eating experience for the whole family.”

To learn more about Meet Up and Eat Up, click here.

To find a Meet Up and Eat Up site near you, call 2-1-1 or text “FOOD” to 877-877.