If you’re a social media user, chances are you’ve seen this message shared multiple times over the past few weeks:
If you are a student in Kentucky and in need of a meal this summer, simply text “FOOD” to 877877 and receive a message back with a location closest to where you can get a free meal.
On the surface, it seems like a great way to combat hunger in the state. According to a 2016 report by the Food Research and Action Center, nearly a quarter of Kentucky households with children had trouble affording enough food for a healthy diet. That’s more than 4 percent higher than the national average. And it’s slightly higher in Louisville.
Still, the message seems a little, um, phishy. Is this a legitimate program? Who is providing these locations? And what are they doing with the information you text?
So, I tried it.
I texted back the address of Louisville Public Media and got back a message saying the closest summer meal programs were at Louisville TKO Boxing, the Chestnut Street YMCA (both of which confirmed they were launching their summer meals programs on Monday) and Engelhard Elementary, whose summer meal program started May 30.
The service is provided by the USDA’s “No Kid Hungry” initiative. There’s also a phone number for non-texters: 866-3-HUNGRY.
So, I called the number.
“They would contact us here and provide us their zip code,” said the representative from the USDA hotline. “We can locate the local sites, give them the address, the phone number and the hours of distribution.”
Representatives can also provide information for senior callers about Meals on Wheels and other senior food services.
No Kid Hungry does not share any phone numbers with external parties, nor will texters be contacted in the future.