Mesa, Chandler making sure kids won’t starve

Kids 18 and under can eat free breakfasts and lunches at dozens of schools and other sites in Mesa and Chandler this month and next, thanks to a federally funded program aimed at ensuring that students who depend on school breakfasts and lunches won’t go hungry while they are on summer break.

Children in need will not have to go hungry in Mesa and Chandler this summer, even though school is out.

The Chandler Unified School District and Mesa Public Schools on Tuesday, June 3, are opening dozens of sites where underprivileged kids 18 and younger can get breakfast and lunch without cost — and several where even their parents can eat at minimal cost.

The sites, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Child Nutrition Program, provide food relief for financially disadvantaged families. Neither district requires proof of eligibility for the program. 

“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation in the summer,” said district Food and Nutrition Director Loretta Zullo. “The school meal program provides a safety net for a lot of families that might be experiencing some food insecurity.”

Jenny Bracamonte, Chandler schools’ food and nutrition director, agreed.

“We know we have students in our district that count on us for meals every day, and just because it is summer, that need doesn’t go away,” Bracamonte said. “Our summer program allows us to serve free meals to any child 18 or younger at several different sites throughout our district.”

The summer meals programs ensure students continue to eat nutritious meals when school is not in session.

“For our high-need areas in the state it’s critical,” said Stefan Swiat, department spokesman. “When you look at certain portions of the state there are areas where students only receive their meals from school.

“If you are on the breakfast and lunch program during the school year and it goes away in the summer, you need to supplant that food,” Swiat added. “That program gives students the opportunity to receive nutritional substance throughout the summer.”

In Arizona there was a 3 percent increase in students participating in the program for 2018 from the year before, according to Swiat.

Last summer about 59,000 meals were served to children and teens in the Chandler school district — an increase from about 49,000 meals served in the summer of 2017.

The meals are similar to what is offered during the school year. They must meet federal nutrition standards with lunch, including milk, two servings of fruits and vegetables, a grain and a protein.

MPS will serve at 47 of its schools in Mesa and Chandler, and offer meals that were considered “popular” during the school year — including crispy chicken sandwiches, chicken and waffles, chef’s salad, ham and cheese sandwiches and full servings of fruits and vegetables.

In Chandler, breakfast foods at Destination College, 1525 W. Frye Road, include French toast sticks, maple syrup, mixed fruit, apple juice, 1-percent milk and chocolate skim milk.

The lunch choices can include burritos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese, cheddar Goldfish crackers, baby carrots, side salads, apple slices, apple juice and milk.

All meals in both cities are based on federal guidelines.

Generally, a school qualifies as a feeding site if more than 50 percent of its population are eligible for the reduced meal program during the school year.

Chandler is feeding kids and teens free meals at 12 sites — including schools, as well as the Chandler/Gilbert Family YMCA, the nonprofit ICAN office, The Salvation Army, Folley Pool and Arrowhead Pool.

Some locations offer breakfast and lunch while others offer just lunch and some provide lunch and a snack — all prepared under the direction of CUSD Executive Chef Todd Ganatta. Folley Pool is the only spot in the Chandler district that will serve dinner.

Adults can buy a meal for $3.60 at Folley Pool, at 600 E. Fairview St., and Arrowhead Pool at 1475 W. Erie St.

“We are very excited to have our new food truck, Nosh + Nomad, serve at the pool sites this year,” Bracamonte said. “This is a first for our district and we are sure it will attract a larger audience.”

She said Nosh + Nomad is part of the school district’s food and nutrition program and has been serving high school students since January.

About 24 percent of students in Chandler Unified qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Although Mesa Public Schools served over 51,000 breakfasts and 87,000 lunches to children last summer, Zullo told the East Valley Tribune that she thinks the program is still being “underutilized.”

“We always try to figure out where the barriers are coming from that are keeping families from participating,” she said. “Our strategy is that we provide the meals at the sites where the kids are, like summer schools or something that is bringing the children to the school.”

Factors like transportation could contribute to decreased participation, she added, especially when it’s too hot to walk during the summer months.

Households where both parents work during the day could also impact whether a student could attend, she said.

“Some children might not be allowed to leave home if their parents are working,” said Zullo. “There are a lot of situations that could keep participation down.”

According to data from the United States Census Bureau, around 15 percent of Mesa’s population is living in poverty.

Zullo said the district will continue to look for ways to reach its low-income communities.

Statewide, 56 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.

Overall for summer 2018, the federal program provided over 1.5 million meals and snacks to children around the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Agency.

Although there are Valley food banks, not all families can get to them, Swiat said.

“What you see throughout the state are schools, specifically district sites that are very convenient locations for students who don’t have access to transportation and can’t get to a food bank,” he said.

“Schools are the cornerstone of a community and is more accessible to students than one off-site like a food bank,” Swiat said. “In addition, a lot of schools provide transportation to students. They pick you up and drop off at certain schools.”

Locations where the program can be offered also include camps, parks, playgrounds, housing projects, community centers, churches and other public sites where children hang out during the summer.

Swiat said in Arizona, 55 to 60 percent of the sites are on school campuses.

“I just encourage people to take advantage of the program that are in need and for schools to reach out to people that it’s available,” he said.

Apache Junction School District also is offering rbeakfast and lunch at the following tiems and places:

--Cactus Canyon Junior High School, 801 W. Southern Ave., June 4 – July 5, Monday-Friday, 7:30–8:30 a.m.,11:30 a.m.–1 p.m.

-Four Peaks Elementary, 1785 N. Idaho Road, through July 12 Monday-Friday, 8:30-9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m.

-Salvation Army, 605 E. Broadway, June 10-July 12, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

(1) comment


At the risk (certainty) of being cast as a heartless neanderthal, I have a problem accepting that it is the function of our educational system to do the job of those bring children into the world and then fail to do their primary job of feeding them.
In a system overpopulated with administration and overloaded with having to deal with children of illegal aliens, many of whom do not speak English, teachers who are constantly demanding more money, schools in need of repairs, and inadequate classroom supplies, how is it the job of the school to shoulder the added burden of providing meals, even when school is out of session, to any student, let alone their parents?
The job of the educational system is to educate. Welfare and economic assistance should not be included in its responsibilities, paid for by property taxes.

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