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Summer Food Service – A Candid Conversation with a Community Center Coordinator

Scot Nelson from the Seattle Human Services Department’s Youth and Family Empowerment Division Summer Food Service Program sits down with Derryn Anderson (pictured below), coordinator at Garfield Community Center, to discuss the impactful role of the free summer meals program. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. You can read the full interview between Scot and Derryn here

Summer Food Service Program: Nourishing Seattle’s Youth 

Head shot of Derryn AndersonEvery summer, as schools close their doors, the challenge of keeping children nourished and engaged becomes a community-wide priority. The City of Seattle’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) stands out as a beacon of support, offering free, nutritious meals to children across the city. Derryn Anderson, the Recreation Center Coordinator, has witnessed firsthand the program’s profound impact on the community. Garfield Community Center, has witnessed firsthand the program’s profound impact on the community. 

Feeding the Future of Seattle 

The SFSP isn’t just about providing meals; it’s about sustaining a community’s health and vitality during the summer months. “Operation of the Summer Food Service Program provides continuity between one school year and the next for school-age youth who normally receive breakfasts, lunches, or snacks at school,” Derryn explains. This continuity is crucial in preventing summer learning loss and ensuring that all children return to school ready to learn. 

Garfield Community Center: A Hub of Summer Activity 

Nestled at the bustling intersection of E Cherry Street and 23rd Ave, Garfield Community Center serves as a central hub for the Central District, especially during the summer. The area around the center, becomes a vibrant space filled with families and youth participating in a range of activities. “Garfield Community Center and its surrounding campus has folks of all ages visiting for one reason or another, drawn by our legacy and the array of events we host,” Derryn shares. This high-energy environment supports numerous Summer Activity Camps offering diverse programs in science, arts, and sports, facilitated by experienced camp counselors and enthusiastic youth interns. 

Beyond Meals: A Training Ground for Youth 

The  SFSP at Garfield does more than feed children; it’s a formative space for youth interns from Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Youth Employment and Service Learning program, where they gain practical skills in community service and leadership. “It’s engaging, it’s very social, it’s making changes and drawing up plans specific to each youth and building their development plan with them,” Derryn remarks about the intern experience. These young employees are integral to the daily operations, learning to balance service with community engagement, and handling responsibilities that extend well beyond the dining area. 

Innovating Community Engagement 

In his role, Derryn leverages the program to foster broader community engagement, creating a synergistic environment where mealtime serves as opportunities for mentoring and education. “We use these moments to ask critical questions, like how a young person approaches another about cleaning up. It’s about instilling respect and responsibility, layered within fun and interactive settings,” he explains. These interactions are designed not just to manage the logistics of meal service but to cultivate a nurturing and instructive atmosphere for both participants and interns. 

Looking Forward 

Derryn advocates for enhancements in training and resource distribution to maximize the effectiveness and reach of the SFSP. “Unified training for all participants and more accessible online resources could really elevate our ability to serve and engage,” he suggests, emphasizing the need for continuous improvement in program delivery and impact. 

The City of Seattle’s Summer Food Service Program does more than just fill plates; it enriches lives, supports families, and builds stronger communities. Thanks to dedicated individuals like Derryn Anderson and many others, the program continues to be a vital part of Seattle’s commitment to its youth and families.  

Join Us in Making a Difference 

As we look to the future, we hope to continue growing and enhancing this essential service, ensuring that every child has the nourishment and opportunities they deserve. Host a site with the Summer Food Service Program and join dedicated community leaders like Derryn Anderson in working towards keeping the youth and families of Seattle safe, healthy, happy, and empowered. Together, we can continue to build a supportive and nourishing environment for all our children.