- PHOTO BY HENRY BRUINGTON
- FREE LUNCH: Kids receive free lunches this summer from the Lovin’ Lunchbox program, hosted by the Food Bank Coalition.
More than 16,000 children in San Luis Obispo County are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches during the school year. But what happens to these children when school is no longer in session?
Enter Lovin’ Lunchbox.
Lovin’ Lunchbox is a program hosted by the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo, which gives children access to a healthy meal during the summer. It is targeted toward kids who receive free or reduced price lunches during the school year, but anyone under 18 can pick up a free lunch at one of the sites, said Children’s Programs Manager Andrea Keisler.
Keisler said students receive lunches through summer school in many places, but with budget cuts to summer school, programs like Lovin’ Lunchbox become more important. Summer school is still offered at some schools in the county however, and Lovin’ Lunchbox serves these schools. Keisler gave San Luis Coastal Unified School District as an example. The school district provides breakfast to students, and SLO Food Bank provides lunch.
At each of the sites, children receive an “exceptional bagged lunch” that includes healthy foods like a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, and milk.
Keisler said people working in the schools have told her stories about kids whose only real meal of the day is provided at school. Lovin’ Lunchbox seeks to reach those children during the summer. Keisler estimates that the program will give out between 20,000 and 25,000 lunches during the nine weeks the program is active this summer.
Sites extend as far north as San Miguel, and down to Nipomo. The program has expanded rapidly, hosting 22 sites this year, up from six sites two years ago. This year, the program is focusing on expanding geographically, and on the quality of meals.
Food Bank Coalition is also trying to bring community resources to sites, to make meals more of an event. Keisler said the SLO Bicycle Coalition gave presentations about bicycle safety at some sites. CalFresh outreach coordinators have gone to sites, to speak with parents about whether they are eligible to receive food stamps. A nutrition educator also visits.
Sites are located near schools where 50 percent or more of students receive free or reduced price lunches.
The federal government, through its Summer Feeding Service Program initiative, funds the program. As a nonprofit, the SLO Food Bank is able to administer it.
The program is giving out lunches now through Aug. 15.
Keisler pointed out that summer school students aren’t the only ones who benefit. Anyone under 18, student or not, can get a lunch, so students’ siblings often pick up a meal as well. Keisler said they serve more than 100 kids a day at their summer school sites.
Lovin’ Lunchbox is one of two children’s meal programs run by the SLO Food Bank. The other program takes place during the school year, and provides children with a healthy after-school snack. Both programs fill a gap of time when some children don’t have access to a healthy meal, Keisler said. The snack program gives out about 100,000 snacks throughout the year.
Keisler has a background in nutrition education for children, having worked with Cooking with Kids in Santa Fe, which teaches children to make healthy food choices. She has also worked with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension, which provides research and education about nutrition, among other topics. Her job at Food Bank Coalition brings her full circle, echoing a position she held at a food bank in Portland, Ore., early in her career.
Keisler visits all the sites during the summer and said she is always impressed by the commitment of the program’s volunteers. Many of the sites are run entirely by volunteers. Keisler recalled a site in Templeton where parents organized arts and crafts for the kids after they served lunch.
“It really makes me happy, it makes the organization happy, to see kids eating and interacting,” she said.
Teens can get a glimpse of a career in engineering at the Cal Poly EPIC (Engineering Possibilities in College) Summer Camp, where they get to build rockets, race solar cars, program robots and more. Dates are July 7 through 11, July 14 through 18, and July 28 through Aug. 1. For more information, contact Teana Fredeen, EPIC program director, at 550-7296 or [email protected], or visit epic.calpoly.edu.
Intern Kyle McCarty forged this week’s Strokes & Plugs in the fires of Mount Doom. Send your business and non-profit news to [email protected].