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Summer should mean fun, not hunger

Groups work to bring free meals to kids

 

By Anahi del Castillo - MOSAIC 2018

At a small table in the shade outside her San Jose apartment complex one weekday in June, Gloria Lopez sits with her two sons, ages 3 and 4, feeding them a lunch of peaches and milk provided by a program that offers kids free summer meals – not far from her front door.

Lopez, 37, is currently unemployed and if it weren’t for this program  she would be struggling to find the next meal for her sons and her two other children, ages 7 and 8.

“I like this program because my kids are on vacation and they can enjoy food,” said Lopez, who lives at the Valley Palms Apartments in San Jose.

Although summer is exciting for many children, some find themselves without a reliable source of food. During the school year, many are given breakfast and lunch at school through the federally-funded free- and reduced-price meal program.

The government also provides some funds for meals over the summer.  But because few parents are aware of this, kids often end up going hungry, putting them at risk for losing ground academically, as well as for physical and emotional issues.

“The harsh reality is that about 85 percent of kids who are eligible for the school meal program don’t participate,” said Diane Baker Hayward of Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

To change this, Second Harvest and a coalition of school districts, libraries, and other organizations is working to raise awareness of the summer meals program, and to expand into mobile sites that bring food to children closer to where they live.

Last summer, the Children’s Nutrition Coalition served nearly 670,000 meals and this summer it hopes to supply 800,000 meals at 120 sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.  At some locations, breakfast and afternoon snacks are available as well as lunch.

Coalition partners encourage parents and children to fill their plates with healthy, well-balanced meals of meat or a meat alternative, grains, vegetables, fruit and milk.

Including Lopez, there are six family members living in one apartment at Valley Palms.  About five years ago, Lopez worked at a taqueria. But currently, only her husband works. He has to work two shifts to make ends meet.

Like Lopez, Valley Palms resident Maria Gonzales has four children and said it’s difficult to buy food because prices are so high.

“I have to provide food three times a day for four children,” Gonzales said.

At Valley Palms, the program serves about 65 to 75 lunches a day and hopes to expand it to 150, said Aundraya Martinez a Santa Clara County probation community worker who works with the coalition.

She said that at this apartment complex, many of the residents have an annual income of $12,000 to $15,000 and are juggling two or three jobs.

On the same day that Gonzales was eating with her children, the food station at Welch Park in San Jose attracted few takers.  

Coalition coordinators are working to raise parents’ awareness of this and other sites by making flyers, posters and banners, and delivering  door-hangers to 70,000 households where incomes are low.

They’re also hoping the mobile feedings they’ve set up at parks, youth centers and low-income housing complexes, as well as at schools, will make a difference.

They have for Lopez.

“I wouldn’t go to any other program if it wasn’t at my apartment complex,” Lopez said, “because of how expensive gas is."