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Free summer lunches being served up to kids in need

VISTA — This year’s free summer lunch program kicked off with a Nutrition Celebration at the Boys & Girls Club on June 20. The program provides a nutritious meal to any child, age 18 or younger, who shows up — no forms or paperwork are required.

During the kick-off, families engaged in nutrition-related games and quizzes, and were entertained by 1960s theme music and dance. The Boys & Girls Club partnered with Vista Unified School District to hold the celebration. It is one of more than a dozen sites in the district where free summer lunches are served.

“Summer lunches ensure that children receive healthy and nutritious meals at no cost during the summer,” Jamie Phillips, district Child Nutrition Services director, said. “This program helps to address children who face food insecurity and helps to bridge that gap.”

The USDA Summer Meals Program takes place across the U.S.

“These programs feed tens of thousands of children a day across the county,” Dave Palmer, marketing consultant, said. “We know that more children can be served and provided with access to healthy meals at no cost.”

Vista Unified School District has participated in the summer lunch program for more than five years. When the school district first began three sites served summer lunches. Each year more sites have been added to assure easy, walkable access for kids. Two additional sites were added this year to bring the total to 17.

“For children who rely on school meal programs during the year this ensures that they are not forgotten during summer break,” Phillips said. “By partnering with organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, children are in a safe environment where they stay engaged in educational and recreational activities.”

Depending on the site, fresh hot or refrigerated lunches are served Monday through Friday.

“At sites that serve hot meals, staff come in daily and prepares meals for the children,” Phillips said. “At sites where cold meals are served, WaveCrest Café Central Kitchen prepares and packages all of the meals.”

Participating sites see the lunch service as a big plus.

“By providing great meals to our summer program participants every day, we know that we are able to address their physical needs as well as social and emotional needs,” Raul Castillo, Boys & Girls Club director of operations and programs, said.

Approximately 14,000 students in the district qualify for free or reduced cost meals during the school year, and would benefit from the free summer lunch program.

“We want this program to have as few barriers as possible,” Phillips said. “Last year the Summer Feeding program served almost 48,000 meals. We are predicting to do approximately 50,000 meals this summer.”

Free lunches will be served through Aug. 11. Lunch times and menus are posted on the school district website. Meals at all sites are served on a first-come, first-served basis. To find the nearest location, text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877.