Hunger doesn’t end when the final school bell rings.
That’s why in the 1970s the Summer Food Service Program was started by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program allows school districts and private nonprofit organizations to sponsor locations where breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner are served to anyone under 18 years old.
The program is completely federally funded, with groups reimbursed for each meal served.
The number of meals served has grown exponentially in the last few years because of the financial struggles families face. Stories about the program often draw comments or questions about where the money comes from.
Wesley Delbridge, the nutrition supervisor for the Chandler Unified School District, took a few minutes to explain how it works.
In June 2009, the district served about 1,300 meals daily. Last summer, that jumped to 2,500. The meals are served at qualified school sites that have a high number of children from low-income families or at public swimming pools, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Jewish Community Center — anywhere children gather once school lets out. Those sites qualify based on surrounding demographic information.
For each meal served the district is reimbursed a predetermined rate. In Chandler’s case, the reimbursement rate is $2.94 because areas where meals are served are considered “severe need.” The money is used to fund the food, those who prepare the food and the drivers who deliver it to the different sites.
“We don’t make money on the program,” Delbridge said. “It all balances out.”
And no district funds are used, he said.
“We’re not taking money from the teachers or curriculum,” he said. Like WIC or food stamps, the program is in the federal budget.
The meals must meet nutrition standards. Adults can purchase a meal at select sites as well.
Delbridge said he’s also preparing for 9,000 to 10,000 students to take part in a “meals in a backpack” program.
The district received a grant to provide backpacks filled with four meals — two breakfasts and two lunches — for children to take home on the weekends.
“There is definitely a need there. We think we’re going to have more participation this year” in the overall summer food program, Delbridge said.
The Mesa Unified School District is preparing for an increase in summer meals itself.
More schools qualified this year because 50 percent or more of their students are eligible for the federal free/reduced meal benefits.
With that, the district will serve meals at 41 locations this summer, 12 more than last year, said Loretta Zullo, who leads the district’s food and nutrition department.
“We are excited about our expanded outreach this year and hope the community will respond and take advantage of this summer nutrition program,” she said.
Breakfast and lunch will be served at six city parks, four city recreations centers, one church and the YMCA on Mesa Drive, in addition to several schools.
Last year, the district served an average of 3,146 breakfasts and 4,922 lunches a day in June.
For information on sites near you, check your district website or contact your local school.
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