OCEANSIDE — A recently received $7,000 grant enables four after-school programs to provide free healthy meals for kids. Previously the program sites lacked the appliances needed to provide anything beyond a light snack of apples and peanut butter.
The additional funds will buy needed refrigerators, freezers, warming tables and food preparation areas to create meals.
The after-school meal programs will also include nutrition education and cooking opportunities for parents and kids. Healthy unfamiliar foods will be introduced to families.
“They’ll be educated on how to use and eat kale,” Maria Yanez, city housing program manager, said.
Programs that will serve up meals are North County Lifeline Crown Heights youth program, the Vista Community Clinic Balderrama and Libby Lake Project REACH programs, and the clinic’s For Kids Sake program.
The Crown Heights and For Kids Sake programs began serving after-school meals last year. Additional funds will allow those programs to expand their offerings and provide healthier food.
This is the first year the Balderrama and Libby Lake Project REACH programs will offer kids a beneficial after-school meal.
Yanez said after school-program staff noticed kids who are hungry have a hard time concentrating on homework or other tasks. A nutritious meal improves kids’ academic and social performance.
“With a full meal in the afternoon, they focus more attention, the task is easier and it helps them academically,” Yanez said.
Grant funds were provided by the National League of Cities, Walmart and the Food Research and Action Center.
Salvador Roman, Balderrama REACH youth program supervisor, said program staff members are working with multiple partners to keep kids fed. He said an after-school meal makes a big difference.
“The impact is huge, it’s one of the basic things for our youth,” Roman said.
Previously served snacks did not fill kids up. Many would turn to chips or junk food to feel full, he said.
A pending partnership between Vista Community Clinic and the city of San Diego will help kids even further. The partnership will provide a full hot meal with fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains.
“We are always working with different partners to provide the best resources for our youth,” Roman said.
Oceanside was also awarded $20,000 from the National League of Cities in March. Monies from the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meals Programs grant were used to inform families about where and when free summer meals were being offered.
Yanez said far fewer kids take part in the summer meals program than the free and reduced lunch programs during the school year. Yanez added this is cause for concern, because without proper nutrition kids’ physical, emotional and mental health suffers.
The summer outreach campaign aimed to address food insecurity and teach families healthier eating habits.
Outreach consultants, informational materials, social media and a phone app were used to spread the word about sites serving free summer meals.
Meal locations included the public library, community centers, city parks and summer school sites that already drew a high attendance of kids.
Yanez said city staff is still analyzing data from the summer meals programs, but it looks like there was an increase in the number of kids served.
Yanez said it is important for the community at large to know that food insecurity includes a broad range of ages and socioeconomics. Sometimes it means not getting enough healthy food, or skipping a meal.
Kids benefiting from the summer and after-school meals programs range in age from 1 to 18. Similar programs are held in most cities.