By Eliza Partika
In collaboration with Glendale Community Services and Parks, the Glendale Unified School District is offering free lunch for children 18 and younger this summer at Pacific Park from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday up until Aug. 4.
At a recent afternoon in the park, groups of parents and children filed into line and gathered around park benches and tables filled with fruits, vegetables, corndogs and snacks handed out by GUSD staff. Among those who partake in the meals are kids attending summer camp, who hold dangling lunch pails while following dutifully behind camp counselors.
A free meal in the summer heat comes as a welcome alternative for families in Glendale, said Jason Ochoa, a parent who sat eating at a shaded table with his child.
“It’s something extra that helps the parents out, especially if I have a long day, I don’t have to cook, which is always a plus,” he said. “It’s always great because they always have healthy choices: fruits, vegetables and all that. It’s pretty easy to bring the kids down here.”
Kathy Crain, leader of a summer camp run by the city, has been a counselor for more than 10 years. Crain said providing kids with the nutrition they need is an essential service provided by the city and school district.
“There are a lot of kids in this community, in this area that would not have lunch otherwise, so it’s providing a real service to the families in this area,” she said.
Always accompanied by fruits and vegetables, meals at the park are provided based on a two-week rotating menu with options such as sandwiches, pizza, chicken tenders and more.
Jennifer Chin Gonzales, administrator of nutrition services and operations at GUSD said no two days are alike running children’s nutrition. Some days are filled with back-to-back meetings and others are spent taste testing new menu items with children during nutritional education classes at various school sites. Gonzales said her favorite part of running the program is providing children with nutritious meals that will reinforce positive dietary habits into adulthood.
“Hunger is a roadblock to the learning process that may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again and may make children more prone to illness. The Seamless Summer Feeding Program is designed to fill that gap for the children in our community,” she said.
In a June GUSD Board of Education meeting, retiring superintendent Vivian Ekchian noted the importance of providing Glendale families — 47% of which are at or below the poverty line — with reliable, healthy meals.
“Our ability to offer free meals to all of our students … without asking students, without shaming them, is another commitment to our kids to be safe, to be happy and to feel supported,” Ekchian said.
First published in the July 8 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.