The Denison Independent School District will work to keep the hungers of young people at bay while school is out through the roll out of its Summer Food Service Program.
The program, a joint venture between Denison ISD and its contracted food-service provider Aramark, began last week and will run throughout much of July at a majority of distribution locations. Multiple partners, including the Denison Housing Authority and Waples Memorial United Methodist Church, will hand out breakfasts and or lunches at their campuses. Meals will also be provided at a number of Denison ISD schools.
“It’s free and open to any child 18 (years old) and under,” Denison ISD Food Services Director Debbie Hosford said. “You do not have to be enrolled in the school district. You can come in from any town or any state to eat. If the student or young person has special needs, they can be up to 21 (years old). They can just walk up to our sites that are open and get a meal.”
Hosford said the Summer Food Service Program stems from a state mandate that public school districts with high numbers of free- and reduced-cost meal-offering campuses provide students with access to meals, even when school isn’t in session. Hosford estimated the program has been in place for at least 25 years and creates continuity in nutrition and food access.
“During the school year, kids need the nutrition in order to learn and to grow physically,” Hosford said. “They need those same things during the summer months.”
But Hosford said that nutrition is often hard to come by in the summertime because students often settle for easy-to-make meals that aren’t always healthy, and adults of the family are still out of the house.
“A lot of times, parents are working,” Hosford said. “So, we’ve got a lot of latch key, stay-at-home kids who don’t have the access to a good, balanced meal. It’s whatever they can find that’s quick and easy. It could be something out of the refrigerator or freezer. It could be something that’s premade or bought from the fast food place.”
Denison Housing Authority Director Beth Niemi said her organization joined the Summer Food Service Program as a meal distributor for the first time this year and though only a handful of youth had taken advantage of the free food in the first days of the program, she expected the level of participation to increase quickly.
“The word is getting out,” Niemi said. “We’re looking forward to having a good group of kids that are able to get the breakfast and or lunch they need.”
Niemi said she felt the free meals would be a great benefit to the Housing Authority’s youngest residents and a big help to their families. She also pointed to the number of partners who signed up to take part in the program as a sign of the area’s commitment to keeping kids healthy.
“It’s good that we have other people in the community that are willing to help the kiddos,” Niemi said.
Hosford said between the school district’s summer school classes and the Summer Food Service Program, Denison ISD expects to serve roughly 800 meals each day. She encouraged the public to stop by any of the meal distribution locations and take them up on the offer of free food for children.
“Just bring the kids on over and eat with us,” Hosford said. “It’s good food, it’s nutritious food. It fills the kids up and it’s a lot easier on the parents than going out and buying a meal. We really want the kids to come eat with us.”
For a complete list of meal distribution locations, their hours and offerings, visit www.denisonisd.net or call Denison ISD’s food service department at 903-462-7047.