Nacogdoches - This summer, USDA plans to serve more than 200 million free meals to children 18 years and younger through its Summer Food Service Program.
The summer lunch program in Nacogdoches participates, but it takes a collaborative effort.
Summer days are long. Particularly, for Nacogdoches ISD student nutrition workers. They prepare free breakfast, lunch and sometimes supper at 27 locations around Nacogdoches.
"A good 800 a day and that's breakfast. And probably 900, including breakfast and lunch," said Teresa Morales, the summer food coordinator for NISD.
Organizers want to reach as many children as possible.
"According to USDA, one in four kiddos will not have access to a nutritious meal over the summer," shared Robin Thacker, Nacogdoches ISD Student Nutrition director.
It takes community partners to see free lunch bags reach the hands of children and teens between ages 2 and 18.
Over 100 free lunches are served at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, one of several vacation bible schools that partner with the summer food program. The free lunches allow VBS funds to be spent in other ways.
"We're able to get more kids and we don't have to provide the lunches, so we're able to take more kids in and make it free for them too," explained VBS coordinator Antonio Sanchez.
Apartment complexes often donate space for distribution sites knowing children are home alone while adults are at work. So do neighborhood residents who turn yards and carports into dining rooms. They receive nothing in return, except getting to know their neighbors.
"Sometimes we don't really know our neighbors or people who live nearby and having this location might be able to change that a little bit," said Leticia Ceja, who volunteers her yard as a distribution site.
The nutrition department delivered three wooden picnic tables to her lawn for the kids to use.
The community is not just feeding the children's bodies, they are also feeding their
"You can pick out two books," instructed Carla Coffee to first and second graders as they lined up at the
The Rotary Mobile Library. Twice a week the trailer, filled with books, is set up at the Boys and Girls Club where free lunches are distributed. Other days it shows up at parks where lunches and books are distributed.
"The children need good meals. They also need books. They really need it in order to make sure they stay on the grade level or strive for the next level by the time they start school," said Coffee.
Distribution sites are always needed to help ensure that no child goes hungry this summer.
Innovative ideas for reaching kids are welcomed. There's even discussion about establishing a summer lunch food truck in Nacogdoches.
Summer lunch programs happen nationwide. Travelers can stop at any location. Call 211 to find sites around Texas. go to www.fns.usda.gov for distribution sites around the nation.