Meet Up and Chow Down

Meet Up and Chow Down children and volunteers

Meet Up and Chow Down logo

Meet Up and Chow Down is United Way of Northeastern Minnesota's free summer lunch program for children on the Iron Range.  The program was piloted in 2016 in Chisholm; 1,680 meals were served.  Over the summer of 2022, 12,023 Meet Up and Chow Down lunches were served at nine sites in Chisholm, Cook, Hibbing, Mt. Iron, Nashwauk, and Virginia. The program is provided through support from the USDA and Minnesota Department of Education's Summer Food Service Program. In 2023, the program has expanded to offer lunches in 13 sites across the region.

What is the need?

More than 1,000 children in the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) service territory on the Iron Range are enrolled in the Buddy Backpack Program each school year. The UWNEMN Board and Staff recognized the need for a summer food program. School districts have also expressed a need for such a program in the summer, when the Buddy Backpack program is unavailable.

What is the impact?

"I have personally experienced a feeling of comfort and safety from United Way having the lunches in the summer where my kids went to socialize when we were new to the community. As a mom who came from a big city, seeing the impact your volunteers made on family and other families made a difference how I view the United Way organization and the impact in our community. I am going to make sure my contributions are set up as soon as possible to support this organization and what they continue to do every day."

- Local parent's feedback about Meet Up and Chow Down

Important Reminders

Federal and state government guidelines require that children must eat Meet Up and Chow Down lunches on-site. Volunteers are not able to hand out meals to children to take off-site.

Lunches for this program are provided entirely with funding from the USDA and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)’s Summer Food Program. USDA and MDE require that meals be eaten on-site; UWNEMN would not receive funding to provide these meals if we did not follow this requirement.

The on-site meal requirement has always been a component of this program. An exception was made in the last two years due to the social distancing guidelines of the pandemic. USDA and MDE this year re-instated the on-site requirement and are strictly enforcing it in the wake of a Twin Cities-based fraud case in which individuals allegedly misappropriated $250 million in funds meant to feed children.

If you are wondering why your community is not listed as a site, it is either because we were unable to secure a site, kitchen, and/or enough volunteers for your community – or because we have not yet begun the outreach process to find a site, kitchen, and volunteers. Every site must go through a lengthy state approval process so we only have ability to add a couple of new sites each summer. If you are committed to bringing this program to your community next year, reach out to us now to start the process!

We know there is a critical need for programs like Meet Up and Chow Down throughout our region. We do the best we can to meet that need, one community at a time, and are incredibly grateful to the volunteers, sites, and kitchens that make it possible. The continued growth of this program – and even the frustration that spurred this message – show me people across northeastern Minnesota are passionate about feeding local children.

Civil Rights Statement

In accordance with federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.

Read the full Civil Rights for USDA Programs

Volunteers help distribute lunches across the Iron Range each summer!

Thanks to volunteers from across the region that handed out lunches at the following sites:

  • Biwabik 
  • Chisholm
  • Cook
  • Hibbing Bennett Park
  • Hibbing HRA Playground
  • Hoyt Lakes 
  • Keewatin
  • Mountain Iron
  • Nashwauk 
  • Virginia AEOA
  • Virginia HRA 
  • Virginia Olcott Park 

What to expect: Volunteers pick up coolers at a designated location in their community, transport coolers to Meet Up and Chow Down site, set up Meet Up and Chow Down signage, distribute and track lunches, and return materials to the pickup site for the next day's volunteers. All-told, expect about 1.5 hours/day.

The program is Monday through Thursday weekly. For ease in staffing we are asking that if you are able to volunteer that you select 1 day per week for the summer if possible. A basic training which takes about 30 minutes has to be completed prior to volunteering. 

Thursday Meet Up and Chow Down volunteers will be joined by Summer Buddy Backpacks volunteers who will bring additional food for children to take home for the weekend.

Check out all UWNEMN volunteer opportunities!