The Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) is feeding all kids for free at 17 locations across Glendale and Peoria until school starts back up this August.
Available to any child ages 18 or younger, the summer feeding program available to any student regardless of income. Adults can eat breakfast for $1.75, while lunch and dinner are priced at $3.
Sandra Schossow, PUSD’s food and nutrition director, said the program will serve anyone, from a parent who runs a daycare to a foster kid who wants to get a nice lunch, or just someone who doesn’t want to do dishes that day. The district will distribute meals just like the ones served throughout the school year.
“We provide our normal (school) lunch, so we still give our hot option and our cold option,” Schossow said. “This is really a way to get meals to kids during the summer time.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the sponsor of this program, which can be found nationwide. PUSD has been conducting this program with USDA for 20 years. The West Valley district, however, is only a small piece of a larger effort.
“Churches are doing it, communities are doing it, food banks provide locations — I know that the food banks tend to target libraries because kids are already there, so it’s a place parents are already bringing kids,” Schossow said.
Because USDA is the sponsor of the program, PUSD is able to purchase the school lunch food over the summer just like it would in the school year.
But there’s a kicker — the school gets reimbursed by USDA.
Unfortunately, Schossow said the program is not attracting the numbers she would like.
“We are surprised at how little participation is out there, and in our schools we feed anywhere between 30 to 100 (kids),” Schossow said. “Our biggest challenge is getting the information (about the program) to our parents. People have the misconception that they have to not make enough money, that they have to be low income in order to go, and that’s not the case — our parents have just not heard about it.”
PUSD enrolls a large amount of students with low-income families, and according to Schossow, this program could benefit these families.
“Our district is 42% free and reduced. That means 42% of the kids qualify for free meals and reduced meals; it means they have some sort of income need,” Schossow said. “They might not be able to get complete meals at home or healthy meals at home. Their parents may have so many other stresses that (the children) may not be getting enough food at home.”
PUSD officials also believe in giving children the nutrition they need, a difficult subject to dwell on for staff when kids return home for the summer.
“When summer hits, you worry about those kids, thinking, ‘Are they eating at home? Are they eating just what’s in the cupboard?’” Schossow said. “Maybe it’s chips, maybe it’s bread — who knows what’s there? It may just be soda in the fridge, but they’ll grab whatever is available.”
She continued, “If we can provide school lunch during the summertime, we know they’re getting offered complete meals, enough food, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk — all of that.”
According to Schossow, the summer feeding program is needed in so many parts of the country, and she brings it back home to PUSD with examples of how children use the program locally.
“You go to some schools, and you will see the older brother bringing the little sister — and I’m talking sixth grade, not even high school — every day because their parents are working or not available,” Schossow said.
At the end of the day, PUSD officials want all parents to know the program is open to all.
“I want parents to know that this is open to anyone. They do not need to be enrolled in our school district,” Schossow said. “The biggest thing is that it’s available for all kids no matter the income, no matter where you live, and any kid can come and they’re going to get a full lunch.”
To find a location participating in the summer meal program, text “FOOD” to 877-877, or visit peoriaunified.com for more information on locations and menus.