Canby joins free summer meal fold

MARSHALL – During the school year, children are assured of getting at least one meal and in some school districts, two meals a day. But what do families who rely on school food service do during the summer?

Canby youth now have a place to go for a free noon meal. The Connection youth center has operated in Canby for 12 years after the local ministerial association bought a building. This is the first year it has had a summer program, said Karen Houtman, the assistant manager.

The youth center offers morning and afternoon activities and serves breakfast and lunch.

Any child younger than age 18 are welcome to eat there for free as well – whether they attend the program or not.

“Yesterday (Thursday) 10 participated in the program and we served lunch to 22 children,” said Houtman.

Last summer, nearly 140 sponsoring organizations worked with the Minnesota Department of Education to provide 2.3 million meals to children through the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Program at more than 600 sites around the state, according to the Center for Rural Policy and Development.

In 2013, the number of sponsors has increased to more than 150.

The Minnesota Department of Education is seeking additional sponsors for underserved communities needing summer meal sites. Many sponsors, such as such as the Connection youth center, combine a meal program with a summer educational or recreational activity program.

“Some kids, all the food they get in a day is from the school,” said Houtman. “Thirty-seven percent of Canby students are eligible for free and reduced meals during the school year, so there is a need,” she said. “They can’t grow and learn without proper meals.”

Houtman said the menu is posted on the front door of the Connection, which is located at 209 St. Olaf. The food program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture so it has to meet those standards.

“We always have milk, a fruit or vegetable – quite often both,” she said.

Houtman said some schools provide a summer food program, but Canby doesn’t. The Connection kitchen is licensed for food production, and she has a food service license. The Connection manager, Wendy Hacker, has taken the course to get her license as well.

Houtman said the Connection is ready for more kids.

“They can just show up,” she said.

To find out more, call the Minnesota Department of Education at 800-366-8922 or visit or Second Harvest Heartland, 888-339-3663,