Fighting hunger one child at a time
Half a dozen children arrive early, the first in line for free lunch at the Glenview Apartments on Bass Lake Road. Every weekday the recreation room bustles at lunch hour since the Seamless Summer Feeding Program began at the end of May.
Kim Andreasen, director of Food Services for Buckeye Union and Rescue Union school districts, piloted the program and said the number of kids served grows each week. Fifty children are served a day now and Andreasen hopes to spread the message to reach even more.
Earlier this year Andreasen said she couldn’t rest knowing scores of local children would feel hunger this summer. Up to 40 percent of local school children she serves rely on daily free or reduced lunch during the school year. In order to establish a free summer lunch program at even one school site, however, that number had to be at least 50 percent.
“Forty percent is still 40 percent,” she said.
It bothered Andreasen enough she sought “poverty pockets,” local neighborhoods where 50 percent of families did meet criteria for aid and garnered federal funding.
With RUSD officials’ full backing, Andreasen then needed to find an offsite location that would host the free summer lunch program. Manager of Glenview Apartments Patricia Zapata volunteered. She knew many residents in her complex weren’t getting enough to eat. She routinely repairs kitchen appliances and it’s common, she said, to see refrigerators with little or no food.
“I really thank Patty,” said Andreasen. “It can be extra work to host because of extra garbage and foot traffic.”
Zapata has no complaints about hosting though and said she plans to help again next summer.
The program has two rules: Only children ages 1 through 18 may receive lunch and they must eat on the premises.
Children dine on the same balanced lunches Andreasen plans during the school year.
“There is a main course, milk and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “We’re filling a need. For many of these children the only certain meal a day they receive is the free one they get at school.”
All children qualify, regardless of where they attend school. No questions asked.
One mother sat while her 11-year-old and 5-year-old ate their lunches. “I’m used to them eating at school every day,” she said. “That’s 10 meals a week. On the weekends when they eat lunch at home that cuts into dinner food, so yeah, it helps a lot during the week.”
It also helps that it’s served where she lives.
“I don’t know if I’d drive somewhere further,” the mom said. “That would cut into gas money.”
Andreasen is looking for more people like Zapata to host the summer feeding program at their sites and would like to expand the program by next year.
“The ideal location would already have kids right there,” said Andreasen.
Meals are prepared at a central location and then transported by vans to the site.
With 25 years of experience in school food services, Andreasen knows the need for free summer lunches is even higher up the hill.
“I am happy to teach others how to do what we’ve done here,” she said of neighboring communities. “My No. 1 goal is to see that kids don’t go hungry during the summer months.”
A grandmother of three lives at the Glenview apartments and brings her little ones to eat most days. Her son is a single father and wounded veteran. She is the only mother figure his three children have known.
“I love that they’ve been turned on to new fruits and vegetables,” she said as an added benefit of the program. “They just started to love pineapple after trying it here. The lunches are much healthier than I remember when my own kids were young.”
Andreasen is also a member of the California School Nutrition Association, an organization that works with legislators to provide input on issues pertaining to child nutrition programs. The organization’s members hope to change the eligibility scale and regional indexing, the flat salary-scale nationwide that dictates whether a family qualifies for free meals. A family earning $18,000 per year in California can buy less than someone making the same amount in another state.
“In the end there may be a whole laundry list as to why families can’t feed their children,” said Andreasen. “Whatever the reason it’s not the kids’ fault and they shouldn’t go hungry.”
Until school resumes, with the exception of July 4 and 5, free lunch for children is offered Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Glenview Apartments, at 2361 Bass Lake Road in Cameron Park.