School may be over in the next few weeks for East Valley school districts, but food and nutrition departments don’t get any time off.
Free meals for children, infant through age 18, will be offered in Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe again this summer, all part of the federal Summer Food Service Program.
Many sites will start serving June 4, with breakfast and/or lunch being offered at a number of locations in each city. Schedules vary, with some running through June and others running all the way through July.
Once again, the Mesa Unified School District is partnering with the city to offer meals at parks, said food and nutrition director Loretta Zullo. This year, the district will run three routes with four parks each, doubling last year’s offering.
“We are doing an aggressive City of Mesa parks program,” she said. “We’ve decided to expand it. We picked some additional parks in high-need areas that might be located in areas where families may have a difficult time getting to the closest school if they don’t have a vehicle or if the price of gas keeps them from making the drive.”
At each stop, the van will serve food for 20 minutes. Cold food will be offered four days a week, with a hot item offered once a week. Many sites will stop serving the end of June.
Last June, the district served meals at 52 sites, including schools, a church site and the parks. This year, food will be served at 62 sites, she said. A list is online and includes the East Valley YMCA, six junior high schools, three high schools and numerous elementary schools.
“We have been growing because more schools hit the qualifying number of 50 percent free- and reduced (price) during the school year,” she said.
In Mesa last year, 122,524 lunches and 76,069 breakfasts were served in June.
The Higley Unified School District is offering the program for the first time this year, starting May 29 at Chaparral Elementary School and Higley High School.
“That will service all the students in our school district boundaries, even students who don’t attend our district schools,” said Melanie Shaha, Higley district spokeswoman.
Chandler Unified School District will have meal sites at six schools (Hartford Sylvia Encinas, Bologna, San Marcos, Frye, Galveston and Knox elementary schools), as well as Desert Oasis, Folley and Arrowhead pools.
Students in Gilbert will be able to get breakfast and lunch at Gilbert High School, as well as five other sites: Burk, Superstition Springs and Harris elementary schools and Mesquite and Greenfield junior highs.
The federal program is guided by the number of low-income families in a school that qualify for a free or reduced-cost meal during the school year. Districts that choose to sponsor the Summer Food Service Program must submit a tally to the federal government, which then reimburses them for each meal served.
Anyone 18 and younger can get a free meal five days a week at most sites. Adults may purchase a meal for a nominal fee.
For more information, check out your school district’s website for information. Many have already posted the schedules since meals are served for only a short time frame each day. Some run each day, some are Monday through Friday.
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