Texting service alerts families to nearest free meal

Kendall Trinidad, 6, right, and her sister Isis play with crafts before getting a meal at a Phoenix community center. (Photo by Madison Conner/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Four years ago, No Kid Hungry launched a texting service to help families in need quickly find free meals.

So far this summer more than 300,000 texts requesting information have led children and families to places where they can eat, said Derek Lambert, a program manager at the nonprofit.

Anyone in Arizona can text “food” or “comida” to 877-877 to get information about where to go for meals. The service will ask the person’s location, then send them the names and addresses of the nearest services.

Summer meal programs organized by nonprofits, schools and churches offer meal services year round but the numbers of people take advantage of those programs sag during summers because fewer kids can access those meals through their schools.

“In Arizona 500,000 children qualify for free, reduced price school meals during the year,” Lambert said. About 12 percent of those are participating in summer meals programs.

An awareness gap is one reason for low summer participation in Arizona and nationwide, he said. A lack of transportation compounds the problem in Arizona, where it’s tougher for poor families to get around in the heat.