School is out for the summer, but districts on the Central Coast are working to make sure children get the food they need.
“Hunger doesn't take summer vacation. And so, you know, kids still need to eat healthy, nutritious meals. And so, yeah, we're here to provide that for them," said Chef Christopher Jones, the Central Kitchen Supervisor for San Luis Coastal Unified School District.
In most districts, children 18 years old and younger are eligible for the meals.
In Paso Robles, the community can stop by Daniel Lewis Middle School for lunch the day of, and the next morning's breakfast. The program is expected to last through July 15.
“I am dealing with as a food service director and with every food service director in the state and a nation is facing. The reimbursement rates for the school meals are quite low considering the quality that we're able to get,” said Jessie Wesch, the Director of Food Services at Paso Robes Joint Unified School District.
At San Luis Coastal Unified, the public can access meals at Del Mar Elementary and C. L. Smith Elementary for free breakfast and lunch. The District does ask visitors to check in with the main office before each service, and the program is expected to last through July 29, and is closed on the Fourth of July.
At Lompoc Unified School District, the program is accessible until August 5 at the Lompoc YMCA Community Center and Clarence Ruth Elementary School. Breakfast is served from 8 to 9 a.m., and lunch is served from noon until 1 p.m.
For some schools, the programs look different than last year. At Lompoc Unified, students have to physically be there to pick up the meals.
“They aren't doing the bulk meals like we did during COVID. And this time the students do need to be present, which is slightly different than what we did during the pandemic,” explained Deputy Superintendent Bree Valla.
“Last year we had a lot of open sites. This year, we're strictly to our summer school sites, just for school safety reasons and keeping our students as safe as possible,” added Wesch.
Organizers say they are up against challenges that affect the programs, including supply chain issues and staffing shortages.
“And how we kind of pivot around that is buying locally and, you know, getting produce from right down the road, getting local organic ingredients that are coming straight from the farmer, straight to the school site,” said Jones.
“I didn't want to open the floodgates and have every site open like we have in the past. We just didn't have the staff. Staffing is like the hardest thing right now, even for my department during the regular school year,” said Wesch.
Some local districts offer culinary camps for the summer, allowing children to learn more about their food.
“Today we actually made a daal dish. And that's going to be paired with this book, Bilal Cooks Daal (by Anoosha Syed). And we're doing this in our summer school culinary class program. So the kids get to read this book, and then they also get to make and taste the recipe of our daal dish,” said Jones.