Summer schools offer free hot meal
By Kerry Fehr The Republic | azcentral.com Fri Jun 7, 2013 6:35 AM
Churches, community centers and public schools across the Valley are extending their reach to serve free breakfast and lunch this summer in hopes of making sure that children don’t go hungry over summer break.
The Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program serves 17 million people nationally. Statewide, 3.3 million meals were served through the Summer Food Service Program last year, according to the state Department of Education, with many eating breakfast and lunch. The service began Monday in most districts and lasts through summer break, which is usually the first week of August.
There are no income restrictions, nor any requirement that a child be enrolled in a school to participate, but they must be 18 or younger.
The Arizona Department of Education administers the annual program and school districts across the Valley advertise the locations and times for meals on their websites.
The Education Department also lists locations at azsummerfood.gov.
“It’s critical not only for Glendale but for families across the state,” said Jim Cummings, spokesman for the Glendale Elementary School District. “Our responsibility is to our students and when school ends, that responsibility doesn’t end.
“You can’t just cut people off during the summer.”
With 90 percent of the district’s 13,500 students qualifying for free- and reduced-price meals during the school year, the K-8 district has one of the largest summer food programs in the state.
Cummings expects the district will serve 55,000 meals at 12 sites, including water-recreation areas and apartment complexes for the first time.
Also new this year to Glendale: Adults can eat breakfast for $2 and lunch for $3.
Other Valley school districts also allow adults to eat for a similar fee.
With 50 million Americans lacking access to nutritious food each day, according to estimates, most urban and suburban districts want to increase the number of students and families they are reaching.
In the Chandler Unified School District, which operates a modified year-round calendar with a summer break of seven weeks, the program ends as early as June 28 at school locations and July 12 at city pools.
This year, the district is using a $1,500 grant from the Dairy Council of Arizona to provide games and crafts for students between breakfast and lunch at Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School in central Chandler.
The grant covers a staffer’s time and supplies.
The between-meal activities make Hartford unique among the summer food programs in Chandler. It’s aimed at ensuring that kids get two nutritious meals a day, Monday through Friday.
“We’re thrilled to have that onboard this year,” said Patty Narducci, the district’s supervisor for the food and nutrition department. “The idea is to keep the children who are most vulnerable.”
In addition, Chandler Unified is one of two districts in the state participating in a pilot program for the third year to distribute weekend food bags on Fridays at seven locations.
Litchfield Elementary School District is the other one. The USDA is giving Chandler Unified a $71,000 grant for its weekend program.
The summer food program wasn’t a secret to Chandler resident Becki Padilla, who once worked for the food service when she was in college.
Now a single mother of two and a special-education teacher at Chandler High, Padilla takes advantage of breakfast, lunch and the free activities at Hartford.
“It’s an awesome, awesome program,” Padilla said.
The Scottsdale Unified School District expects to serve 112,000 summer meals, up from 75,000 last year.
The increase is due to a new middle-school summer program, plus the number of children being served in non-district programs, such as a local Boys & Girls Club and a community center.
About half of its meals will go to children in non-district summer programs.