In late May 2017, Facebook users began to share a message claiming that if you send a text message to a particular phone number, you would receive the address of a nearby location where school-aged children could get free meals during the summer. The message was typically worded like this:
If you have a school-aged student in need of breakfast and lunch this summer, simply text “FOOD” to 877877 and receive a message back with a location closest to where they can get free summer meals. Even if you aren’t in need, someone else’s kids are. No child deserves to go hungry, ever.
This is a real phone number, a real program, and an accurate message. The text information service is run by No Kid Hungry, an initiative of the non-profit organization Share Our Strength.
No Kid Hungry has access to information about tens of thousands of groups serving free meals nationwide as part of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program.
Once the free meal providers register with the USDA, No Kid Hungry makes their location and hours available to the public via the 877-877 number. To use the service, text “FOOD” to 877-877 and enter your zip code when prompted. Spanish-speakers can also text “COMIDA” to 877-877.
You can also locate registered, licensed free meal providers using this interactive map on the USDA website.
Unfortunately, your nearest free meal provider may not be in your town. This is because, by law, sites are only allowed in areas where 50% of schoolchildren or more are eligible for free or low-cost school meals, according to the USDA. You can check whether your local area is eligible to host a Summer Food Service Program site, using this map.
However, even if your neighborhood isn’t eligible for a free meals provider, there is no restriction on you and your children traveling to the nearest site and getting free meals there.
The summer program is federally funded and administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which also runs the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program during the academic year, as well as the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
According to a spokesperson for the No Kid Hungry campaign, the Summer Food Service Program served 177 million free meals at 47,816 sites across the U.S. in 2016.