Summer Meals Program provides 80,000 meals over summer

Published 12:03 am Friday, August 14, 2015

Funded by a grant from USDA, Rowan-Salisbury’s Summer Meals Program delivered 80,000 free, nutritionally balanced meals to children across the county this summer — that’s 12,000 more meals than the program served last year.

“We’ve never had that many,” said school nutrition supervisor Lisa Altmann.

On average, the program’s staff distributes 1,500 breakfasts, 1,850 lunches and 650 snacks every single weekday.

Making and delivering that food is no easy task – it takes 24 staff members, two buses, five moving trucks, a van and a truck each day.

“You come through the door and start running,” Wanda Pender said as she explained their daily routine.

They cook or prepare both breakfast and lunch at Carson High school, individually wrap it, divide it, load it and send the vehicles out. After breakfast, they reload the vehicles with lunch and send them out again. Both hot and cold food is packed in special cooling or heating containers to keep the meals at a healthy temperature.

When the vehicles go out to the sites, one driver and two staff members are on board each. They hand out the food and supervise the children while they eat.

Because the USDA grant specifically states that the food must be eaten by the children, they are required to eat their breakfast or lunch at the Summer Meals site.

“They can’t take the food home,” Altmann explained.

“We don’t have many leftovers,” she said, but added, “We never run out.”

If one group is running low, they’ll call the others to bring them more food.

Altmann said their numbers soared this year mostly because of the hard work of school nutrition managers Carolina Hernandez and Cindy Trexler.

The pair went door to door in the neighborhoods near their Summer Meals Program drop-off sites and handed out fliers to families with children.

“It worked,” Altmann said, citing the 12,000-meal increase from last year.

They also added sites after realizing that families were traveling to one particular site to feed their children.

Meals are served in a one-week cycle. There are three hot and two cold lunches served each week. Originally, there were more cold lunches, but they adjusted when they realized the children liked the hot meals better, Altmann said.

There’s an overall sense of gratitude at each of the meal sites. The Summer Meals Program coordinators are grateful for the opportunity to bring meals to local children in need.

“We see them (the students) hungry all school year,” Altmann said. “We worry about them.”

She added that it’s good to know they’re being provided with meals.

The students and parents are also thankful for the meals.

Southeast Middle School seventh-grader Claudia Pineda said her family found out because Hernandez knocked on her door to tell them about the program.

“We came because it was free,” she said.

She added that her favorite meal is the burgers they get each week.

Claudia’s mother, Olga Pineda, said she’s thankful for the Summer Meals Program.

“The food is good,” she said as Claudia translated.

“She said she can’t feed us all at the same time,” Claudia added for her mother.

Knollwood fifth-grader Mayrani Lopez said she comes to the Summer Meals Program each day with her brother and sister. She said she knows to come out when she hears the bus horn.

Hunger is much more than missing a meal, Altmann said. It’s a symptom of a much deeper problem – poverty.

“I think we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

In the city, pockets of poverty are saturated, and easy to reach. In the more rural areas of the county, however, they’re more spread out and harder to identify.

Altmann added that the Summer Meals Program is doing a good job of reaching the southern and western areas of the county, but there remains a lot of need.

“There’s definitely a big need in the eastern part of the county,” she said, adding that their goal is to eventually have three or four buses delivering food each day.