School sites offering free lunches for needy kids

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJune 30, 2013 

— School may be out for the summer, but between 1,200 and 1,500 youngsters are getting a free lunch weekdays at 11 sites in Merced through the end of July.

"We're living in a community where there is a section of the population that doesn't know where their next meal is coming from," said Terri Soares, director of the Merced City School District's Department of School Nutrition Services.

Soares said the district has provided lunches for the last dozen summers through funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's an operation that doesn't show profit or a loss.

Lunches are served from 10:40 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to children from 1 to 18 years old and there has been excellent response to the program so far, Soares said.

There is a two-week rotating menu, Soares said. Meals include some favorites from the regular school year, including hamburgers, peanut butter and jelly and other sandwiches, chicken nuggets, rib sandwiches, potato wedges, burritos, salads, carrots and cucumber wedges.

Soares said nectarines, plums and peaches are served along with other stone fruits that are in season. Appropriate portion sizes are served and the summer meals meet health guidelines.

Meals are offered at Burbank, Gracey, Hoover, Reyes, Sheehy, Stefani and Stowell schools, along with Merced Meadows, United Methodist Church, the the Womens Infant and Children site and Grace Bishop Academy on Santa Fe Avenue.

Students can take some fruits and vegetables home to share with their families, Soares said.

At the Merced Meadows Apartment site, about 50 children of all ages take advantage of the meals. They also get enrichment and recreation opportunities through a program offered by the nonprofit Lifeline Community Development Corp.

Monika Grasley, Lifeline executive director, said her program involves community members. She said she believes everybody has something to give back to the community.

"It's empowering when people realize they have strengths," Grasley said. "(Parents) don't have to worry about their kids getting a nutritious meal."

Karen Gillian, director of the Womens Infant and Children program at 1235 W. Main St., said about 50 children a day get school meals served in an enclosed patio area at the complex.

Gillian said it's not just feeding. Students get positive socialization experiences and enrichment opportunities related to a healthy lifestyle. They have been planting green bean seeds in cups and will take them home for planting once they sprout. On July 10, firefighters will visit.

Soares said the summer feeding ends July 29 and the school year resumes Aug. 19. During early August, district cafeterias are shut down while they are cleaned and repaired for the regular school year.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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