BY: KARLA MARTINEZ / Coachella Unincorporated
COACHELLA — When summer comes around, many eastern Coachella Valley children who depend on free school lunches for a consistent daily meals must look elsewhere or go hungry. The Summer Food Service Program seeks to change that.
The SFSP is part of a decades-old national program through the the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which served about 187 million meals in 2014 at over 50,000 sites throughout the summer. There are 17 sites in the Coachella Valley.During the times that each site gives for breakfast and lunch anyone from the community is allowed to show up and receive food. They typically serve breakfast from 7:30-8:00 and lunch from 10:30-11:30. Children do not not need to sign up in advance to get food services.
Whole meals and snacks are also accessible to people with disabilities who are over 18, those that participate in school programs or for people who are mentally or physically disabled.
In most sites, children receive one of two meals each day, either breakfast or lunch. Sites that only serve migrant children can be approved to serve up to three meals to each child, each day.
At the site of Bobby Duke Middle School in Coachella during lunch there are groups of young children accompanied by their older siblings and they each have a tray with food like pizza, sandwiches or orange chicken along with a milk and a snack.
“I like the food program because it helps our families and everyone in my community. It’d be sad to think kids my age are starving,” says Manuel Osorio who is 9 years old and attends Valley View Elementary in Coachella.
During the week parents often join their children for breakfast. Parents who come by the Bobby Duke Site and eat meals with their children expressed a large amount of gratitude on behalf of the program’s existence. Parents suggested that more outreach should be done for parents of low income that don’t know about SFSP.
“We saw the school opened and saw people getting free food, We’ve been coming every monday for lunch since then, about eight times we’ve come to this site,” said Mariana Luna, mother of four children who eat lunch at the Bobby Duke Site in Coachella.”I work all day, and I get home so late that my kids have to wait until I get home to make them dinner.”
The mother of four is greatly dependent of the Summer Food program. Because she works eight-hour shifts, Luna was only able to make her children breakfast in the morning, but could not be home for lunch. Now with the SFSP program helps ensure her children get lunch even while she’s at work.
“It’s like being back in school but without the learning,” explained Ruben Luna, 14, who attends the food program at Bobby Duke Middle School in Coachella. “I asked for the food schedule just in case they served orange chicken, it’s my favorite.”
Particularly at the Toro Canyon site in Thermal where most of the working population are field workers participate in the breakfast hour given by the school. They will be accompanied by their teenage sons and daughters enjoying a breakfast before work.
“I work during the summer with my parents, and in the morning we’re always in a rush, but we live so close to my school we actually have time to eat breakfast,” said Arely Gomez 15, who lives in Thermal.
Lorenzo Vargas, a parent at the Toro Canyon site, said the SFSP sites have continually been places where families who make little income can get a meal for each member of their family members and not have to worry about the bill.
”I know I don’t make much, but the extra help is always appreciated, especially when we speak about food and the schools providing it,” Vargas said.
For further information on SFSP sites near you, visit the SFSP website or call 760-399-5137.