Special Blog Post By: Sue Kim, VISTA Coordinator of School Breakfast & Out-of-School Time Meals

“Summer Meals Spotlight” is a short series that highlights the work of community partners providing free, nutritious meals to kids in the summer.

Summer Meals 1 edited for blog

The “dynamic duo” behind the summer meal program at the Mountain View Whisman School District: Sophia Zalot, Food Service Supervisor (left) and Debbie Austin, Director of Child Nutrition (right).

School may be out of session, but hunger doesn’t take a summer break. Summer meal programs play a crucial role in filling the hunger gap when school is out, providing kids with the nutrition they need to grow, learn, and play. Summer meals are available for all children 18 years and younger, and are offered at community sites such as schools, libraries, parks and community centers.

One example of a successful summer meal program has been the Mountain View Whisman School District, which launched a mobile feeding program in June. This mobile feeding model for summer meals is the first of its kind in both Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, and will be studied by Stanford Children’s Health to see how the program can possibly be replicated in other areas.

In the first two weeks of the program alone, the school district reached over 14,000 kids at six sites – putting them well on track to exceed the 39,000 meals served last summer. According to Debbie Austin, Director of Child Nutrition, this has been the school district’s “best summer yet.”

We recently caught up with Debbie to see what’s been cooking in the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Can you tell us a little bit about the kids and families you are serving in the city of Mountain View?

When people think of Mountain View, they think of Google town. However, it’s so expensive to live here that when you work a minimum wage job, you might not have enough money to pay for an apartment. We have families sharing one apartment with two, three, even four families. In Rengstorff Park, there’s a lot of people living out of RVs. We went around and talked to people, and found out that people are renting the floor space in an RV. Many of the people have children, they have no hot or cold running water, they have nowhere to cook, so we’re targeting many of these families.

Why did you start a mobile summer meals program?

I believe in feeding everybody that is in need. Last summer, I drove around the city and noticed there were a lot of kids who weren’t enrolled in programs. They weren’t in Parks and Recreation camps, they weren’t in summer school – they were playing in the park. There were hundreds of kids, and most of them were children in need.

The mobile feeding program is in three parks – we’re in Klein Park, Rengstorff Park, and the park immediately in front of the Mountain View Public Library. We chose those parks because of the high population of free and reduced students in those areas.

Without the assistance of the food bank and the federal reimbursement for serving meals, we would not have been able to do this program.

Example of a prepared lunch box.

Example of a prepared lunch box.

How have you partnered with other organizations to make the summer meal program a success?    

We’ve partnered with the Parks and Recreation Department and Police League for several years now, which has allowed us to reach the kids in their summer programs. This is our first year working with the library. The library helped us by putting out flyers and making announcements about the program several weeks prior to us serving the food. They have Music in the Park every Tuesday, geared for younger children, and they announced that we would be there. The library’s been a great partner in assisting us and getting the word out about summer meals.

How did you promote the program among students and families?

We pretty much saturated our school district with flyers, announcements and auto-dialers in English and in Spanish; everything was done by word of mouth. I think the whole city knows now!

We also offered samples of the food. People were drawn to the food not just because of the quality, but also because of the unique packaging. It looks more like a fancy lunch so kids are more likely to take it. I don’t want the kids to look at it as if it’s a handout meal; I want them to feel like they went to an upscale eatery

What kind of food is being served this summer?

We have hot and cold items, including turkey bento boxes, turkey club sandwiches, chicken taco salad, sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches, and veggie wraps. Breakfast might be pancakes or muffins with yogurt. All items are served with fresh fruits and veggies as well as milk.

Fresh fruit is served as part of a summer meal for kids.

Fresh fruit is served as part of a summer meal for kids.

What are some lessons learned from operating the mobile feeding program?

A lot of kids are restricted because of where they live, so if we knew specifically where there was a large volume of kids, next year we could set a time to be in the parking lot of, say, a housing complex so the kids could come and grab a meal.

Also, we would consider changing our start time; kids aren’t really in the park at 11 o’clock. Particularly if we want to reach older children as well, we need to be there after 12 o’clock since a lot of kids don’t wake up until later. We’re missing a large portion of kids who are hungry because they’re still asleep. If you’re doing mobile feeding, the time needs to be later.

What is one thing you love about doing summer meals?

Having the kids say they like the food! They’re shocked that the food is so healthy yet so good, and are shocked at the way it’s presented. They ask in disbelief, ‘We don’t have to pay for this?’ No, it’s a free, nutritious summer meal!

**To see a full list of open summer meal sites, click here and to see other posts in the Summer Meals Spotlight series, click here.