Second Harvest and Meals on Wheels partner to feed O.C. kids for the summer
On a recent Friday afternoon, kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana waited mostly patiently for lunch to be served. They wiggled in their seats, with one eye on the television at the front of the room where the Disney movie, “Luca,” played and the other at the back of the room where a woman was rolling in a cart of boxed lunches.
“Everyday, we provide every child with a meal,” said Krystal Amezquita, summer shift lead at Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana. “It includes all five food groups and a milk.”
The lunches are part of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County’s 2022 Summer Food Service Program, in partnership with Meals on Wheels Orange County, a nonprofit dedicated to the nourishment of older adults. The program for children takes place at 39 sites throughout the county.
“We provide the lunch and the snack, and we deliver it in our trucks,” said Darla Olson, vice president of advancement at Meals on Wheels. “Our trucks are already out in the community delivering meals to older adults, so it is a wonderful way to serve the community as a whole.”
The summer food program is free to all children, without eligibility documentation, who are 18 years of age and younger.
“Kids can access meals at these locations,” said Ellie Dinh, director of programs and services for Second Harvest. “They don’t need to be a participant at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana. Anyone 18 and under can come during their serving time and get a meal.”
Second Harvest estimates that 49 percent of public school children rely on free and reduced meal programs during the school year, which aren’t always available during the summer season.
“There are a lot of school districts that do open up to provide meals, but it’s not always accessible, because you have kids that take the bus to school during the school year,” Dinh said. “These summer sites that we partner with, like the Boys & Girls Club, we can take food to where the kids are at during the summer.”
At the Boys & Girls Club that Friday, children released when their table was called raced to line up at the cart. Their lunch included a turkey and cheese sandwich, carrot sticks and a banana.
Second Harvest and Meals on Wheels work to create a monthly menu that meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guidelines.
“The meals are prepared fresh every single day — that includes a sandwich or wrap or a salad or a homemade Lunchable. It always includes fresh produce and milk, as well,” said Dinh.
“We want it to be completely balanced, and there are certain guidelines that we follow,” Olson said.
The meals are prepared at Meals on Wheels’ 22,000 square-foot commercial community kitchen in Anaheim, which produces 2 million unitized meals and up to 300,000 gallons of bulk food per year.
Dinh said that while many parents worry about “summer slide” or the tendency for students to lose some of their academic achievement gains during the summer, the same can happen for nutrition.
“In our industry, we call it the summer nutrition gap,” said Dinh. “We know that they are getting access to really good food during the school year but want to make sure that access to that nutritious food maintains throughout the summer.”
David “Eli” Fierro comes to the Boys & Girls Club Santa Ana almost everyday for the lunch and snacks. Fierro said he most looks forward to Cheez-Its in the lunch meals. For Elena Nunez, burritos are her favorite. Amezquita said kids also look forward to tajin and chamoy included with their meals.
“They absolutely adore the lunches that we give here,” said Amezquita. “They look forward to it every day.”
To find the nearest open Summer Food Service Program site, call 211 or text 898211 for hours of distribution. To volunteer with Second Harvest Food Bank, visit https://feedoc.org/get-involved/.
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