Kelley Weiss/Capital Public Radio News
California public schools serve about 500,000 free meals a day to low-income kids during the summer. But with tightening budgets, many districts are cutting way back on summer school programs and that means fewer free meals.
Phyllis Bramson-Paul heads the Nutrition Services Division of the California Department of Education. She says with summer school programs drastically scaling back there’s a lot of confusion for parents about which schools offer meals. And that could mean some kids won’t get fed.
“The impact of schools not offering summer school overall is huge, and to the extent that districts don’t offer nutritious meals as part of that that’s even a double whammy, so not only are we sacrificing kids minds we’re sacrificing their minds as well. I mean this is what this budget means.”
Bramson-Paul says the free school lunches may be the most nutritious meal of the day for many low-income kids. And if they go hungry, she says they’re at risk for various health issues including attention problems and fatigue. But there may be hope…Bramson-Paul says the state is seeing about 10 percent more applications from non-profits like churches and Boys and Girls requesting to serve meals this summer.
And that could help people like Linda Peabody. She takes care of her three elementary-age grandchildren who rely on summer school meals. Then, the Sacramento City Unified School District cancelled summer school this year.
“So that put a damper in our plans, but that’s OK because we came here.”
Peabody is talking about the Tahoe Colonial Collaborative in Sacramento. It’s a non-profit that runs a free summer day camp for low-income kids. Peabody’s grandchildren don’t go to the camp, but she drops in around noon each week day and the kids get free meals.
“By feeding them lunch here, it helps with the overall grocery expense.”
Jan Wells is a volunteer at the center. She’s handing out brown bag lunches to a line of kids just in from the playground. So far this summer, Wells says they serve about 50 meals a day. That’s twice as many as last year. She thinks the summer school cut backs are a big factor driving the increase.
“We’ve had a number of families come in because there’s that gap.”
But even in good times only about a quarter of the kids who qualify for free meals pick them up during the summer. And now officials like Phyllis Bramson-Paul say the state’s starting a campaign to get meals to more kids.