Meals for Kids and Teens Hitting Our Streets This Summer!
By Kelsey Scherer, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist
Since we know that Waco children and families struggle with hunger throughout the school year, we also know that hunger – like any other complex issue inextricably linked to poverty – doesn’t take a summer vacation. That’s why programs like the Summer Food Service Program, which we know locally as free Summer Meals for Kids, are critically important in our community. Waco ISD’s Child Nutrition Services has served free Summer Meals for over twenty years in partnership with school campuses, local churches, and nonprofit organizations, but this year, they’re doing things a little bit differently.
For the first time ever, Waco ISD’s Child Nutrition Services will be launching a new mobile meal program called “Meals on the Bus!” The program will address the longstanding barrier of inadequate access to transportation that has, for many years, been cited as a top reason that children are unable to visit summer meals sites and receive a nutritious meal. By bringing the meals directly to groups of kids at select locations, parents and advocates won’t have to worry about children crossing busy streets or traveling far from home in order to have access to a free lunch.
Two Waco ISD buses have been retrofitted with the collaboration of Waco ISD and STS, and will be fully equipped to serve hot meals to up to 40 children at a time. Children will line up and receive their meals inside the bus, where they will be able to sit in the bus seats and enjoy their meal safely and in the comfort of an air-conditioned space. Targeted stops will include apartment complexes and areas with high densities of children who could benefit from the meal. The site list will be announced soon, but several great partners, including the Waco Public Library System, are on board. Like any traditional Summer Meals site, this program provides limitless potential for partnership with churches, community organizations, state agencies, and others, who have the desire and flexibility to provide summer programming and enrichment to children on-site. Waco ISD will also operate many traditional, non-mobile sites throughout the summer, as always.
This summer, you will also see Waco’s newest child nutrition program sponsor, CitySquare, launching their mobile Food on the Move program in Waco and beyond! The fact that this summer, Waco will be graced with the presence of not one, but two, food sponsors trying out new meal service models speaks to the willingness of groups to collaborate and coordinate services on behalf of Waco children and families. It also reflects the strength of growing efforts to innovate and come up with creative, strategic solutions to challenges within this space. CitySquare has done an excellent job of coordinating dinner meal service to over 900 children daily at participating afterschool programs in Waco since January 2014.
Both of these programs have been in the planning stages for several years, but additional energy, fresh resolve, and technical assistance were brought to the table when the CHAMPS grant, sponsored by National League of Cities (NLC) and Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and funded by the Walmart Foundation, was awarded to the City of Waco’s Parks and Recreation Department. The specific goal of this grant is to increase the number of children who participate in the federally-funded Summer and Afterschool Meals programs, and we have already seen those numbers increase through afterschool meals as a result of the work of this team (of which I am, of course, a totally unbiased member). I am thrilled that our city is being proactive in launching a new model for meal service that has potential to positively impact the wellbeing of children, teens, and families. I am encouraged that we have already seen similar programs be enormously effective in other Texas communities, and I look forward to helping these leaders try out this model in our own community, tailoring it to the specific needs and desires of our neighbors. I can’t wait to see all that will come of these unique partnerships, and see new partnerships and collaborations formed around these great programs.
Keep your eyes peeled for Waco ISD’s “Meals on the Bus!” and CitySquare’s “Food on the Move” serving free Summer Meals to kids and teens ages 18 and under in early June, and an advertising campaign beginning soon. If you want to get involved by supporting a Waco ISD or CitySquare site through volunteers and activities for kids, or helping spread the word, please contact Kelsey Scherer at [email protected] or 254-300-7801.
Kelsey Scherer blogs for Act Locally Waco about Food Security and related issues. She is a Child Hunger Outreach Specialist at Texas Hunger Initiative’s Waco Regional Office. Kelsey is also a team member for the CHAMPS grant. The CHAMPS project aims to equip city leaders, anti-hunger groups, and the broader community to more effectively combat child hunger with the help of summer and afterschool meal programs.