Even though school is not in session, local districts are offering free summer meals for children during the summer months.
Both Willows Unified School District and Orland Unified School District are serving breakfasts and lunches in their meal service.
The Orland district is serving meals three days per week – one breakfast and lunch are served on Mondays and Tuesdays and three of each meal are served on Wednesdays – and Willows is serving meals two days a week – two breakfasts and lunches are served on Mondays and three of each meal are served on Wednesdays.
Debbie Costello, director of business services at Willows Unified School District, said every year the district partners with the Butte County Office of Education to provide meals.
She said it looks different this year because they normally serve students participating in summer instruction programs – however it’s also open to the public.
Costello said they had already been in grab-and-go mode due to distance learning and school closures so they transitioned straight from the regular meal program into the summer program.
Compared to the school year, she said the number of meals being served has tapered off a bit – she said they distributed more than 1,500 meals on some days during the school year.
However, compared to previous summers, Costello said they’re serving probably three to four times as many meals.
“I don’t think there was the awareness and it wasn’t as heavily promoted or communicated,” Costello said.
Sepon Istepanyan, student nutrition manager at Orland Unified School District, said when school was in session, they were serving about 1,000 bags (which contain a breakfast and lunch) per day and on June 22 they served about 450 bags.
He said, however, it’s difficult to compare this summer to previous summers because a large part of their participation was from camps at a couple of the schools, however, it was open to the community as well. This year, there aren’t any camps so this year so it’s primarily the community participating.
Last year, he said they were serving about 350 to 400 lunches and about 300 breakfasts.
Istepanyan said based on community demographics, there is a high need for free and reduce-priced lunches.
“We’re just glad to be able to provide complete breakfast and complete lunch for people who need it,” Istepanyan said.
However, he said it’s also a good resource for people who are looking for the burden to be relieved from their household.
“It saves cooking and saves time,” Istepanyan said.
The district has also partnered with the Orland Free Library to provide a craft for the children who participate – he said the crafts are primarily targeted toward elementary and middle school aged children.
He said the free crafts will be distributed on Tuesdays.
Costello said many families and children rely on the meals they receive from school.
“I think for a lot of households, even before the coronavirus, those meals that kiddos receive at schools are a significant component for their nutrition that the receive on a daily basis,” Costello said. “When summer months roll around and you have that break it creates pressure on households and can have an impact on options available for kiddos.”