State education officials this week announced that four sites in Burbank and one in Glendale will participate in government programs to feed lower-income schoolchildren through the summer.
The two federally funded programs extend school lunch programs into summer, said Carol Mercado, a supervisor in the Burbank parks and recreation department, providing an important source of nutrition during the months-long school break.
"It provides a meal for many kids who would not get a decent meal during the day," she said.
In Burbank, the free lunches are distributed to anyone younger than 18, Mercado said. The new Horizons Family Center is the sole Glendale-based participant to date, according to the state Department of Education.
"The economic downturn has made feeding the family quite a challenge," California Supt. Jack O'Connell said in a statement. "There are still places for families to take their kids and certain adults for a free, nutritious meal."
Both cities tie the free meals into existing programs, officials said.
At New Horizons, children frequent the space beginning at 8 a.m., and after playing around the gym, library or computer lab, they get a free hot meal, said Marielos Montufar, an administrative assistant.
"It's affordable for the families," she said. "We have different programs from the government, but the state is cutting some of programs because of the budget."
In Burbank, the meals are a part of the Summer Parks program at Miller, Pacific, Lundigan parks, as well as McKinley Elementary School.
"It's a good place for parents; they like having their kids over there participating in activities," Mercado said. "It's a safe thing, and they can also have a meal with their friends and have a whole activity as opposed to worry about getting lunch for them. And some may not be able to afford that."
All meals meet national nutrition standards, said Mary Jo Valento, an administrator in the Burbank Unified food services department.
At a minimum, the meals have a hot entree, a vegetable, fruit and milk or juice. The entrees are traditional cafeteria fare, like hot dogs, chicken nuggets and pizza, officials said.
Both programs are underway, with the summer meals ending Aug. 27 in Glendale and July 23 in Burbank, which starts school earlier, officials said.
Providing children with complete meals when schools are closed is one way state officials can keep children healthy and primed to learn in the fall, O'Connell said.