Last year, Fayette County, IN, struggled to feed free summer meals to a dozen impoverished kids a day. This year, it fed hundreds. And by the time school began, the total summer meal count was over 8,300, says Siobhan Carey, director of dining services for Chartwells Dining Services, Fayette Schools’ dining services provider.
The difference: Fayette’s summer feeding program hit the road—literally. Chartwells partnered with the local Gleaners Food Bank to take one of the district’s delivery trucks—“it looks like an old bread truck,” Carey says—and outfit it with some colorful graphics and a horn.
The truck now picks up refrigerated sandwiches and salads in mobile coolers at the district high school kitchen each day and then delivers to eight locations in the community where kids congregate. There’s a great need for such a service in Fayette County, where nearly 70% of the district’s 4,000 students—in school or out— are eligible for free/reduced price meals.
A similar story has unfolded in other districts across the country over the last two years. One of the first was at the New Haven, CT, school district (in fact, Carey says she got her idea from reading about New Haven’s program in FM).
At the Jeffco (CO) Public Schools, Nutrition Services Director Linda Stoll started her program using an old school bus donated by the district transportation department. Then, using a $6,000 grant from the Hunger Free Colorado nonprofit, modified the interior with tables and benches, added a refrigerator, hot holding bins and a hand wash sink, and went on the road to two mobile home parks where the free/reduced rate for the resident children is especially high.
“We spend an hour at each, feeding 70 to 80 kids a day,” says Stoll. “They can sit inside the bus or outside at portable picnic tables we set up.” Unlike Fayette County, Jeffco is able to serve hot items like burgers, pizza and burritos because of the more elaborate onboard equipment.
Meanwhile, in Hernando County, FL, Nutrition Services Director Laurie Drenth was also “having a hard time finding kids in the summer” for free meals despite a 62% free-reduced population. Like Jeffco, she was able to secure a decomissioned school bus and retrofit the interior with a warming cabinet and some old stainless-steel tables and bleacher seats that were sitting unused in a warehouse. Now, some 25 kids can sit inside the bus at a time (“it looks like an old-time diner,” Drenth says) and eat from a hot menu that includes hot sandwiches, fruit/vegetables sides, milk and desserts like cookies.
Hernando County’s bus covers both sides of the county, feeding 500 to 600 kids a week. “These are kids who weren’t coming to our traditional fixed sites. Now they’re getting fed," Drenth says. "And that’s a good thing."