Journal of Housing & Community Development

Empowering Youth with Summer Food Programs

December 11, 2020
Say Yes Program

The City of Wichita wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Resident and Client Services for its sayYES! campaign and CHAMPS Youth Development Program. Nominated from among the NAHRO Awards of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.

The City of Wichita and its community partners are committed to youth development. Recently, the city allocated resources for the sayYES! campaign and the CHAMPS program, two initiatives that support low- to moderate-income families in the community and forge stronger connections with the city’s youth population.  

In 2017, the City of Wichita developed the sayYES! youth enrichment campaign to support low- to moderate-income families. The sayYES! program organizes summer activities for Wichita youth ages 5-18. Several organizations collaborate on the campaign, including Wichita TransitWichita Park & RecreationWichita Housing & Community ServicesWichita Public Libraries, and Wichita Parks Foundation. The sayYES! campaign has successfully impacted local youth in the following ways:  

  • 79 kids and teens had their library accounts restarted
  • 95 back-to-school packs were distributed to kids who completed a 5-week Library check-in challenge
  • 712 bus passes were made, allowing kids to travel freely to the many parks and community centers throughout the city
  • 3,324 passes were used at area pools throughout the program

Food insecurity is one focal issue of the sayYES! campaign. According to Feeding America, about 1 in 5 children in the Wichita Metro Area are food insecure. While 72% of these children are eligible for food programs, there were no afterschool meal sites available in Wichita prior to 2017. The Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) program addresses this issue by participating in both the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP) to provide healthy meals to children. 

The National League of Cities (NLC), Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), and the Walmart Foundation initially sponsored the CHAMPS program. The City of Wichita then received food handling training from the Kansas State Department of Education and hired two Program Analysts to assist with program delivery. Program administrators use a detailed inventory system to track the number of meals served on a daily and weekly basis. The system alerts staff when it is time to restock their inventory.  

The Kansas Food Bank officially records the number of meals served through the program. Since the sayYES! and CHAMPS programs began, the Wichita Housing Authority has hosted 13 meal sites and served over 20,000 meals to children experiencing food insecurity. Only one summer meal site existed in 2017, with the city adding 8 more during 2018.  

The city promotes the programs through advertisements on radio stations, newspaper publications, the City’s website and Facebook page, fliers, posters, and letters. Daily participation increased significantly when the programs started offering incentives. The YMCA provided free pool passes to youth who attended a CHAMPS meal site. Wichita Transit Authority contributed free bus rides to help sayYES! youth access the sites.  

After a successful first few years , CHAMPS is not only self-sustaining, but also expanding.  Staff are planning more sites to bring summer meal access to every child who needs it. In addition to summer meals, there were two operating afterschool sites during the 2018-2019 school year.  

Partnering organizations financially support the sayYES! and CHAMPS programs. The City of Wichita also received a $40,000 grant in 2016 to launch local afterschool and summer meal efforts. They allocated another $30,000 from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. From the CDBG account, $8,838.80 sponsored bus passes for the 2017 sayYES! program and $21,161.20 provided meal delivery for the CHAMPS program from May to December 2018.   

Other communities can adapt or replicate these programs by determining what works best for their own residents. The Wichita Housing Authority networked with other towns and cities in Kansas to learn how about existing food programs in their state before they created their own. Each state has its own state agency which administers federal food assistance programs, such as SFSP and CACFP. Contacting these agencies is a helpful first step in meeting the food insecurity needs of local youth.  

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