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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 9:39 am | Fair 57º


Free Meal Program Helps Fill Gaps While Santa Barbara Schools Are on Summer Break

Partnership provides free meals to local children with locations throughout the county, including Santa Barbara, Goleta, Isla Vista

residents at food truck Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Unified School District’s free summer meal program launched at Oak Park on June 15 to keep local children and families fed during the school break. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Students who depend on the National School Lunch Program will be able to continue getting fed during the summer thanks to an array of local partnerships.

Easy access to federally funded free and reduced-price school meals for children and teens in need hasn’t stopped, even though school’s out for the summer.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District — with help from partners that include the City of Santa Barbara, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and the Community Action Commission — has invited any child age 18 or younger to take part in the free summer food program.

“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation, so summer is a time we need to continue doing our work,” said Nancy Weiss, the school district’s food services director. “This is about helping childhood hunger in the summer because Santa Barbara Unified during the summer serves approximately 2 million meals.”

The district’s Food Services staff will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner at multiple sites throughout the county until Aug. 17. School resumes Aug. 22.

“There is no paperwork or requirements,” Weiss said of the summer program.

Families can look up meal locations in their area by texting “SUMMERFOOD” to 877.877, or by visiting the district’s summer 2018 free meals locations website.

About 2,000 meals a day are provided when school is not in session from mid-June to mid-August, according to Weiss. She said 9,000 meals a day are served when school is in session.

Nearly one in five children in the county struggles with hunger, according to the anti-hunger campaign No Kid Hungry.

The summer meals initiative provides free food, with a white painted school bus called the Mobile Café.

“The Mobile Café is deployed in different locations, and we are also in the North County in Solvang and Santa Ynez elementary schools and making a route in Carpinteria,” Weiss said.

Seven food services trucks delivered hot meals to students at neighborhood parks and other sites throughout the county last week as the program kicked into gear for the summer.

“It’s our first time here, but I’ve heard good things about the Mobile Café and how they are making their food more nutritious and providing a balanced meal,” said Santa Barbara resident Olivia Mora, who brought her son to a summer meals program at Oak Park near Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital last week.

As children dined on watermelon, corn on the cob, a buttermilk biscuit and barbecue chicken, many parents did not leave empty-handed. Meals may be purchased by adults for $4, and the program is also open to residents over age 18 with mental or physical disabilities, and who participate in public or nonprofit private programs established for the disabled, according to the school district.

“I wasn’t expecting this type of food — I thought it would be something packaged,” Mora said. “It looks fresh and good.”

Mora’s son, Daniel Pena, a Franklin School student, said he liked the taste of the watermelon.

“I’m grateful, and this is a blessing,” Mora said.

Santa Barbara Unified School District’s program started in 1976 as an outgrowth of the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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