But since summer school ended July 3, the program has had no takers. District officials say participation often dwindles when summer school ends.
However, Angelica Cazares, director of child nutrition services Patterson Joint Unified School District, hopes more people become aware of the meals before they wrap up for the summer July 27.
She noted that district officials already have promoted the local Seamless Summer Feeding Program, which is funded primarily through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program and supported by the state Department of Education. But for some reason the message does not seem to be getting out.
“I’m not sure if (people) don’t know about it,” Cazares said this week.
If so, it’s not because the district didn’t try to get the word out.
The school district ran advertisements in local newspapers and posted banners at Patterson High School with details about the meals, Cazares said.
She said about five families showed up regularly for the free breakfasts and lunches while summer school was running at local elementary schools from June 6 to July 3. But when summer school ended, the families stopped showing up.
The district also ceased offering the program at Grayson Charter School in Westley when summer school ended there, as Cazares said most families would not travel to the rural school on a daily basis after the summer session ended.
Many families live within walking distance of the high school, and Cazares said she hoped to see more people take advantage of the free meals offered there.
The federally funded Summer Food Service Program, which is organized through the state Department of Education, serves free meals to children in areas where at least half of students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals.
The program reimburses agencies that serve nutritious meals to children and teenagers during school vacation. The program is intended for low-income families, but anyone between 1 and 18 years old can ask for a meal.
“The federal government assumes that anyone who shows up during that time is in need of it,” said Steve Menge, the school district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services. “The whole philosophy on that is the state and federal governments don’t want to see kids go hungry during the summer. For a lot of them, this may be their only source of food.”
The local school district has served summer meals for about five years , Menge said. It spends about $28,000 on the program annually, but all of that is reimbursed, he said.
All meals must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture minimum guidelines. Meals follow a specified plan that includes milk, fruits and vegetables or juice, grains, and meat or another protein.
Cazares said the food is identical to the fare offered during the regular school year. It is also the same food served on non-field-trip days to children in the city Parks & Recreation Department’s All Stars Summer Day Camp, which is running at Las Palmas Elementary School from June 18 through July 27.
Main dishes include chicken sandwiches, pizza, burritos, ham-and-cheese sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches, Cazares said. The district is preparing lunches as children arrive these days, now that summer school is out of session and attendance is down.
“We try to eliminate any of the waste,” Menge said.
Yet even if the program is not well attended, district officials say it is important to continue the program to ensure that children in low-income families have a place to get a solid meal.
“We continue to operate due to the fact that we have needy kids,” Menge said.
At a glance
WHAT: Free meals for children through Seamless Summer Feeding Program
WHEN: Weekdays through July 27: breakfast from 7:20 to 8:35 a.m., lunch from 10:40 a.m. to noon
WHERE: Patterson High School cafeteria, 200 N. Seventh St.
DETAILS: Anyone from 1 to 18 years old can get a free breakfast or lunch just by going to the cafeteria during meal times.