The reduced-price or free lunch program has become a mainstay of public schools and is considered one of the most effective tools in combating childhood hunger. Unfortunately, the program ends when the schools shut for the summer, leaving some kids without a convenient resource to sate their hunger until the classes resume in the fall. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture does fund a Summer Food Service Program that is open to children from low-income families, getting to the distribution site could be difficult.
Into this gap stepped Tim Cipriano, who is the executive director of school food services for New Haven, Connecticut. In order to make sure that the kids will be fed, he arranged the food to be delivered in what has become a common site for many urbanites: a food truck. While having to go to somewhere for a meal might carry a stigma, no similar reservations seem to keep kids from approaching the summer food trucks.
“It’s kind of the cool thing to do, to go to the food truck,” Cipriano says. He piloted the idea last August with a “bare-bones” setup, filling a truck with coolers and ice packs and visiting designated sites in neighborhoods where lots of children qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The brightly painted truck handed out 17,000 meals in just 20 days.
Cipriano’s plan for this summer is even more ambitious. Over the next two months, he plans to have over 40,000 meals served to kids in their own neighborhoods. The program’s expanded capacity came about as a result of truck refurbishment which fitted all vehicles with both an internal generator and a new refrigeration system. These overhauls also allow Cipriano to expand beyond the traditional brown-bag fare and offer kids hot meals.
But even last year’s stripped-down version was successful enough to inspire other school systems. In Fayette County, Indiana, school food service director Siobahn Carey read about Cipriano’s truck and knew it was the solution to her rural county’s woefully underattended summer meals program. “I showed the article to my boss and I was like, ‘We are doing this!’” she says.
Nearly 65% of Fayette’s students participate in the reduced-price/free lunch programs so getting them fed between one school year and the next is a priority. Previously, the need was served by multiple regional cafeterias the kids could go to for their meals, but this year, the food trucks will make that unnecessary.
And it’s not just struggling families that benefit. In any neighborhood where the majority of kids qualify for subsidies, summer meal programs can get USDA funding without requiring children to enroll or prove eligibility. Anybody under 18 can grab a free lunch, which makes visiting Fayette County’s food truck an activity the whole community can enjoy, Carey says.