OCEANSIDE — Schools may be closed for summer break, but Oceanside Unified School District is still cooking up weekday breakfasts and lunches to serve to local kids. The Summer Food Service Program is going on countywide.
During the summer schools, parks and youth organizations team up to provide nutritious meals to area kids who receive free or reduced price lunches during the school year. The Summer Food Service Program is funded through USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
Partnerships to plan, purchase, prepare and deliver summer lunches are formed through grassroots efforts, and the help of the San Diego Hunger Coalition.
The coalition acts as a watchdog group for kids from low-income neighborhoods. If there is not a Summer Food Service Program in place in a neighborhood where half of the households are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, the group brings together local agencies to address the need and guides them through funding paperwork.
Robin McNulty, San Diego Hunger Coalition School Meals Program director, said oftentimes kids who need a meal are not within walking distance of a site that serves summer lunches, or there are not summer classes or activities to draw kids to a participating site. The goal is to organize as many convenient locations as possible to ensure kids receive a daily meal during the summer break.
McNulty said year-round nutrition is important to keep kids growing and learning. Hunger leads to illness and health issues that continue through the school year.
In Oceanside more than half of the district’s 20,000 students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches.
To address hunger over the summer months 20 sites, including schools, youth facilities and parks, serve lunch. The locations are where summer reading and parks programs also take place. The school district oversees summer lunches. Some sites have a kitchen, others have food delivered, and a couple of the parks have a food truck pull up with meals. Depending on the location breakfast and lunch or lunch and a snack is served.
There is no need for families to sign up for the free summer lunch program. Any kid up to age 18 can show up and have a meal.
Naom Shadwell, Oceanside Unified School District nutrition services director, said the Summer Food Service Program also allows visiting kids to participate.
“We’re always trying to expand our outreach to more community members, it’s available to anybody,” Shadwell. “We want children to have access to healthy meals throughout the summer.”
To ensure top nutrition Oceanside locally sources a lot of its food, and has a productive school garden that harvests fruits and veggies year-round. Shadwell said canned produce is never served.
Shadwell said Oceanside faces the same challenge as other school districts in reaching all of the students it feeds during the school year. To extend its outreach six more service sites were added this summer.
The county Summer Food Service Program began in 1977 at a handful of schools. The program has grown, but still only feeds half the number of kids who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year.
To find the nearest location serving free summer lunches call 2-1-1, or text FOOD to 877-877.