CHICAGO, June 29, 2009 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today took part in the Obama Administration's 'United We Serve' initiative by serving lunch to kids at St. Agatha's Family Empowerment in Chicago, Ill.

The Obama Administration's 'United We Serve' initiative is designed to make volunteerism and community service part of all American's daily lives to help build a new foundation of service, one community at a time. Vilsack was joined by a cross-section of religious leaders from throughout Chicago.

"President Obama's 'United We Serve' initiative is a challenge to all Americans to participate in building a better future for our country and there is no better place to start than working toward his goal of ending childhood hunger," said Vilsack. "Too many kids in our country go hungry over the summer months, and we hope our service today encourages greater participation in USDA's Summer Food Service Program, which is an important effort to ensure that all American children have access to healthy, nutritious food even when school is out for the summer."

During his visit, Vilsack noted that S.A.F.E. is a beneficiary of USDA's Summer Food Service Program, which provides children with access to nutritious lunches when school is out. S.A.F.E. is a new summer meals site this summer in collaboration with the Greater Chicago Food Depository's Kids Cafe' Program.

The link between childhood nutrition and mental and physical growth is well established. Lack of proper nourishment can affect health and hamper growth. But in Cook County, 43 Kids Cafes provide safe havens and hot meals for more than 2,500 hungry children. An initiative of Feeding America and administered locally by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, these after-school programs also provide tutoring assistance and educational programs.

While the National School Lunch Program serves more than 30.9 million students in schools and residential childcare institutions during the school year, only about 1.4 million children eat a school meal in summer school. USDA's Summer Food Service Program provides breakfasts, lunches or snacks to approximately 2 million additional children.

Available at approximately 32,704 meal sites in parks, schools, camps, churches and other locations nationwide, the Summer Food Service Program makes resources available to promote healthier lifestyles. Targeted to low-income areas where 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the program serves up to two meals or one meal and one snack per day per child.

Kids will be able to receive food at S.A.F.E., 3151 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, Ill., each weekday through August 7, 2009. Breakfast will be served between 8:30 and 9:15 a.m., while lunch will be served between 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. Approximately 140 elementary age children will be served breakfast or lunch at this site each day.

To learn more information about where local children can participate in the Summer Food Service Program, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479.

Later in the day, Vilsack visited the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which administers food and support for S.A.F.E. and dozens of additional support organizations in the region. During his tour of the facility, Vilsack highlighted USDA's ongoing efforts to support the food and nutrition needs of local families through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

So far this year, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has received more than $5 million in food through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to feed hungry families throughout Chicago. Food donations total more than 6.8 million pounds of products such as canned pork, deli turkey, whole bagged chicken, canned applesauce, mixed fruit, and canned peaches.

The Obama Administration's 'United We Serve' summer initiative began on June 22 and runs through the National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11. The President's call to participate in this program focuses on four key areas where everyone can have a continuing impact in their community: education, health, energy and the environment and community renewal.