In a large sunlit cafeteria, 9-year-old Tiyonna Williams sits with about 30 other children. Soon they’ll head outside for a water balloon fight. But right now they’re eating a dinner of chicken fajitas, watermelon and salad.
“When my mom doesn’t have any money, I probably just eat snacks, all day long. Popsicles, chocolate, candy, chips,” Tiyonna says.
Thousands of kids like Tiyonna take advantage of summer meal programs hosted by schools or community centers like the Neighborhood House in Portland. And programs like Dare to Care that make and supply the food are important to many children who say three quality meals a day aren’t guaranteed at home.
“Sometimes my mom doesn’t have food stamps or money. So we just go to our church and have Dare to Care,” Tiyonna says.
Around two-thirds of Jefferson County Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year, which is based on income levels and household size. Most of them—75 percent—take advantage of the program, says JCPS nutrition director Julia Bauscher.
Further, over 80 percent of the 61,769 students who qualify for free lunch are enrolled in the program. And about 70 percent of 6,078 students who qualify for reduced lunch are enrolled.
During the summer, JCPS serves roughly 4,500 lunches and half as many breakfasts, Bauscher says. This may be the only time when some kids are eating a healthy meal.
Summer meals distributed by JCPS, the Louisville Metro Community Action Partnership (CAP), and Dare to Care go out to places like the Neighborhood House, churches, schools and Boys and Girls Clubs.
The meals are aligned with school and federal nutrition standards, meaning lunch will include protein and a colorful array of vegetables and fruits, some of which kids are experiencing for the first time.
“We had fresh pineapple,” says Edna Williams, Tiyonna’s grandmother. “They didn’t know what it was. They thought pineapple was round and came in a can.”
Williams works in the kitchen of the Neighborhood House. Tiyonna tags along with her during the day, so she gets breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Meals served at the Neighborhood House come from Louisville’s Dare to Care organization which primarily serves suppers, complimenting the lunches provided throughout the county by JCPS.
In the Butchertown neighborhood, Dare to Care Executive Chef Jon Meng opens a large metal bin filled with key ingredients for today’s meal. There’s 90 pounds of ground beef, 15 pounds of onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomatoes.
“Today we’re doing spaghetti and meat sauce,” he says.
Dare to Care is celebrating its one-year anniversary of locating its new central kitchen to Butchertown. Since moving here, the organization’s meal output during the school year immediately tripled, officials say.
Starting Monday, around 2,000 suppers will be sent to 22 sites around the city during the summer—twice as many suppers Dare to Care provides during the school year, says program director Annette Ball.
The sites are located in the city’s most impoverished areas, she says.
“We have a lot of them in the downtown area where we have a density of poverty.”
Just under 10,000 meals are served per day during the summer between Dare to Care, JCPS and CAP. But most JCPS students who are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program at JCPS are not being served in the summer.
This also means finding the right locations to offer summer meals is important. This year, JCPS is adding a second mobile “bus café,” which will drive to specific locations around the county that have low-income families.
Last year, the bus café was a success, says Bauscher.
“We visited the Algonquin pool at like 2:30-3 o’clock, so kind of an early supper, late lunch,” she says. “We actually had more kids from the surrounding neighborhood eat at the site as opposed to kids that were swimming at the pool.
The bus café visits mobile home parks and city pools. Unlike during the school year, any student 18 and under is allowed get a free meal without proof of family income. This year, there will be a total of 10 bus sites, says Bauscher.
These are the JCPS sites; school sites are purple and bus sites are blue. Hours and dates for the sites can be found here.
Also, JCPS has added a wifi hotspot on the bus, so they can help families complete the application right there for next school year.