United Way app improves Meet Up and Eat Up summer meal sites

Published on August 28, 2018 in

For many kids in our community, summer break can be a time of uncertainty when they no longer have access to free and reduced school meals. We created Meet Up and Eat Up to help bridge the gap by creating and growing a regional partner network of sponsors and meal vendors to offer healthy free breakfasts and lunches.  

Since 2011, the program has grown to more than 700 Meet Up and Eat Up sites serving more than 1 million meals last summer. But as the program has grown, so has the paperwork. 

Every site must keep a detailed account of the meals they serve to ensure they get properly reimbursed, and that they’re ordering the correct amount of meals for the kids they serve. Keeping track by hand and collecting paperwork from each site creates added work and stress for the organizations trying to keep kids fed all summer. 

A new solution to meal counting

With more than 700 sites, making it easier to count meals makes a big impact. That’s why in 2015, we worked directly with the Michigan Department of Education to build an online system to digitally track meals served. The system includes a mobile application to track meals as they are served and an online portal for organizations to view data. 

“One of the biggest issues we were having was timely submission of paperwork and compliance from sites,”says Wayne Metro Community Action Agency’s Healthy Communities Manager Jenna Maxwell, who oversees the 15 meal sites run by the organization.“The app has given us a lot of freedom and flexibility. It is so easy to use, and when I’m able to see the numbers every single day, it’s a huge help.” 

With the Meet Up and Eat Up meal-counting app, the cumbersome paperwork is becoming a thing of the past. As a result, sites can save on time and effort. 

“We know paper reporting is inefficient and wasteful,” said Bryan VanDorn, United Way Healthy Kids Manager. “With the mobile app, we’re able to help sites and move Meet Up and Eat Up forward.” 

We’re also able to keep track of trends to determine where to provide support.

“When sites are able to keep a detailed recording of meal trends, we can use this information to figure out how many children in the region are taking advantage of the program. That means fewer meals are wasted, and more kids can continue to be fed properly,” Bryan said. “This app has helped us streamline our program, so we can continue to efficiently provide for our community members.”  

Organizations find that the app makes their day-to-day work easier. It also helps them avoid wasting food and money. 

Several of Wayne Metro Community Action Agency’s Meet Up and Eat Up sites have switched to reporting meals served with United Way’s meal-counting app.

Building a hunger-free summer

After a successful pilot run of the system in the summer of 2015, use of the app has expanded to 21 sponsors and 201 sites in summer 2018, tracking more than 280,000 meals served. And although use of the app is optional for site partners, it continues to grow.

“We’ve seen consistent growth in use of the app,” said Bryan. “The app allows us to grow the number of meals served without putting a strain on the organizations and people who do this work.” 

And it allows site coordinators like Jenna to focus on the true goal of Meet Up and Eat Up: Making summer hunger-free for kids. 

“It’s given us a lot of freedom and flexibility,” Jenna said. “The app is so easy to use, and when I’m able to see the numbers every single day, it’s a huge help.”