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What’s that big picnic in the park? 5 things to know about free summer lunches

By in Press Enterprise on July 4, 2017

By Stephen Wall

Stop by a park on a weekday this summer and you might catch a whiff of barbecue drifting through the air.

You may spot dozens of kids feasting on barbecue chicken, cheeseburgers, pork sandwiches and other tasty entrées.

Across the Inland area this summer – in school cafeterias, libraries, parks, community centers and churches – tens of thousands of children are lining up for lunch, and sometimes breakfast, with the federal government picking up the tab.

Here are five things to know about these summer meal programs.

1. Just like school year

The lunches are an extension of the free and discounted meals offered during the school year.

Nearly two-thirds of Riverside County students and almost of 70 percent of San Bernardino County kids meet income requirements to qualify for these lunches during the regular school year. When classes are in session, kids get at least two meals a day and sometimes an after-school snack.

The summer program has no such restrictions. Any child 18 years old and younger can get the lunches without registering or showing proof of income eligibility or residency.

“They don’t have to be from the area,” said Sara Maragni, food service director for the Ontario-Montclair School District, which serves about 7,000 lunches a week over the summer. “If there’s no free lunch in Chino and they want to drive their child from Chino to Ontario, they can do that.”

2. Important purpose

For families struggling to put food on the table, these lunches may be the only nutritious food their kids get all day, educators say.

“For many of these children, their next meal is an iffy proposition,” said Gavin Brody, Riverside Unified School District’s nutrition services director. Riverside Unified feeds between 3,200 and 4,500 kids daily at 27 sites in the city.

Just as taking care of a car is a 12-month […]    

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