Behind the Scenes of the 2024 Summer Eats Conference

Project Bread

Our Partners

The 2024 Summer Eats Conference brought together Project Bread staff with 138 Summer Eats sponsors, DESE partners, and summer meal providers for a day of learning, connection, and collaboration!

Curious about this year’s Conference? Read on for a recap and get ready to mark your calendar for next year!

Natasha Smith, Director of the Child Nutrition at Project Bread, stands behind a podium on stage and addresses conference attendees.
Natasha Smith, Director of Child Nutrition, Project Bread

Project Bread hosts an annual Summer Eats Conference every winter to get ready for the upcoming summer meal season. Keynote and workshop presenters share resources on grant opportunities, community engagement strategies, and expanding meal site capacity to keep more kids & teens fed throughout the summer months.

Currently, approximately 1 in 4 households with children in MA are food insecure. While the passage of Universal Free School Meals has helped provide healthy, nourishing meals for kids and teens during the school year, reliable meal access during the summer months is still a concern for thousands of households across the state. Thankfully, free meals don’t end when school is out! Hundreds of Summer Eats meal sites operate across MA to provide breakfast, lunch, even dinner and activities for kids and teens- with no signup or registration required.

A Summer Eats awareness week promotional post which says "All Kids & Teens Eat for Free. Drop in, kick back, and Eat Up." Find Free Meal Sites at: www.projectbread.org/summereats
A Summer Eats awareness promotional post that says "Now every day is recess. Free meals for all kids + teens. www.projectbread.org/summereats."

Summer Eats meal sites range from schools to libraries, public parks to community centers, in rural and non-rural regions throughout the state. Check out our Summer Eats map to see just how many sites are open so far this summer!

Sarah Cluggish, Chief Program Officer at Project Bread, address conference attendees while on stage.
Sarah Cluggish, Chief Program Officer, Project Bread
Robert M. Leshin, Director of the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), address conference attendees while on stage.
Robert M. Leshin, Director - Office for Food and Nutrition Programs, DESE

Opening Remarks

Sarah Cluggish, Chief Program Officer at Project Bread, provided a welcoming address to conference attendees, followed by opening remarks from Robert M. Leshin, Director of the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Patrick Tutwiler, Ph.D. Secretary of Education, Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, address conference attendees while on stage.
Patrick Tutwiler, Ph. D, Secretary of Education, Executive Office of Education

Keynote Speaker

This year’s keynote speaker was Patrick Tutwiler, Ph.D. Secretary of Education, Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, who spoke about the importance of coming together as communities to help support kids, teens, and families during the summer.

Erin Wholey addresses conference speakers with information on Summer Eats grants from New England Dairy.
Erin Wholey, RD LDN, Director of Youth Wellness Programs, New England Dairy
Kristen Torres addresses conference speakers with information on Summer Eats grants from DESE.
Kristen Torres, MS RD LDN Educational Specialist, DESE

Grant Opportunities

Project Bread, New England Dairy, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education provided attendees with information on grant programs offered in summer 2024, along with eligibility, allowable expenses, requirements, and application windows.

Natasha Smith, Director of Child Nutrition at Project Bread, shares information on Summer Eats outreach material.
Natasha Smith, Director of Child Nutrition, Project Bread

PROJECT BREAD UPDATES

Natasha Smith, Director of Child Nutrition at Project Bread, shared updates on outreach material and other resources that Project Bread provides for meal sites and meal sponsors.

One of the reasons why kids and teens don’t utilize Summer Eats is because they don’t know the program exists, and we want to change that. We recognize the barriers that often exist in accessing nutritious food, which is why our outreach materials for this crucial program are available in multiple languages, easily accessible through our website, and we emphasize that there is no registration or signup required to receive a meal from any of these locations.”

Natasha Smith, Director of Child Nutrition, Project Bread

Sharon Johnson, Assistant Director of Child Nutrition, moderates a workshop on marketing and promotional strategies for Summer Eats.
Sharon Johnson, Assistant Director of Child Nutrition, Project Bread; Michaela Short, Assistant Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Salem Public Schools; Melanie Wilk, Director of Food Service, Chicopee Public Schools
Chloe Miller, Senior Outreach Coordinator, Project Bread moderates a workshop on creative Summer Eats site locations.
Chloe Miller, Senior Outreach Coordinator, Project Bread; Kelsey Sanders, Food Service Director, Webster Public Schools

Workshops

Attendees also have the ability to attend workshops throughout the day to share strategies, brainstorm, network, and learn from last year’s Summer Eats season to make this year’s the best one yet!

Breakout workshops for the day included: 

  • Making Congregate Work! Strategies for Engaging Congregate at Meal Sites” for brainstorming around onsite engagement as kids eat their meals, 

  • Market Yourself! Best Practices for Planning Promotion, Outreach, and Events,” which focused on community engagement and outreach strategies, 

  • and “Creative Site Types: Libraries, Housing Properties, and More,” to inspire site sponsors and meal providers to expand outreach efforts by incorporating more non-traditional Summer Eats meal sites.

A picture of Summer Eats conference attendees sitting at circular tables, listening to opening remarks at the beginning of the conference.

A day of collaboration

Conference attendees represent every region across MA, and the Summer Eats Conference is an incredible opportunity for sponsors and providers to connect and support one another. Everyone convened with the same goal: to continue to make an impact in their communities by providing free, nutritious, and accessible meals to kids & teens during the summer months.

Excited? Stay tuned for next year’s conference! For more information and resources about becoming a Summer Eats meal provider or improving your local program, reach out to our Child Nutrition Outreach team at 617-723-2543 or cnop@projectbread.org.

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