The school year is over this week for most local schoolchildren, which means so are the daily meals many of them rely on as their main - and sometimes only - source of nourishment.
But No Kid Hungry, a national program that works to end childhood hunger, has devised an easy way for parents and caregivers to locate free meals in their communities this summer - simply send a text.
Here's how it works: Text the word "FOOD" to 877877. When prompted, include an address, zip code or city and state to receive a list of up to three places nearby offering a free breakfast and lunch. It works for those speak Spanish, too, by texting "COMIDA" instead of "FOOD."
The meals are free and open to any child up to 18 years old. Children may have both breakfast and lunch, though not all sites offer both. Additionally, some sites offer adult meals at a reduced price.
There's no registration, no identification - "if you're a kid 18 and under, you can just show up to a site and get a free meal," said Claire Mansfield, state director for No Kid Hungry Virginia.
The texting program started nationwide several years ago. It's connected to the summer meals program, which is a federally-funded program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Virginia, it's operated through the Virginia Department of Education, which partners with local schools, churches, boys' and girls' clubs, parks and recreation departments and others to serve meals. Going now for 40 years, the USDA program was created to bridge the food gap for those children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs.
Once the meal sites have been approved through the program, that information gets loaded into a national database. No Kid Hungry collects the sites and disperses the information when texted.
Mansfield said the program typically kicks into high gear about a week or two after the school year is officially over. Last summer, the Richmond area sent 787 texts, the highest of any locality in Virginia.