Hungry children in Decatur will have a new option for hot meals this summer.
And the best part is, it’s free.
The Decatur school district is offering free summer meals to anyone 18 and younger at Decatur High School and Young Elementary School during the month of June. The district is participating in the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
Shelly Laaser, director of child nutrition at DISD, said schools who have at least half of their student population qualify for free or reduced price lunches based on income are required to offer a summer feeding program, unless they receive a waiver. Decatur has about 47 percent who qualify, but Laaser said the school felt it was important to offer the service even though it wasn’t required to offer the program.
“The reality is, kids are hungry,” Laaser said. “As much as an ugly thing that is to think about, it’s not sweet and pretty and nice, it’s just the reality of it.”
Laaser said cafeteria managers are able to see the need first-hand throughout the school year. That need becomes even greater during the summer months.
“They see the kids are hungry when they come back to school on Monday mornings,” she said. “That’s why we do the menu the way we do with serving protein for breakfast on Mondays for the kids who haven’t eaten over the weekend. At elementary, it’s pizza on Mondays. That’s probably one of our higher calorie items. We do more calories on our Monday menu because of those kids who come back from the weekend who are hungry and could use that.”
In previous years, the district has offered meals at the cafeterias during summer school, but it operated like a normal school year. Kids who qualified for free meals ate for free, those who qualified for reduced prices ate for a reduced price and those who didn’t qualify paid full price. This year, everyone will eat for free, regardless of income.
Although the food service will be located at the two summer school locations and follow the same dates, even those students who are not in summer school can come eat. Laaser said the district will not require any proof of age, residency or income.
“Anyone who appears under the age of 18, we’ll feed them,” she said.
Decatur will serve breakfast and lunch through June 27 at the following times and locations:
- Young Elementary School: Breakfast, 7:30 to 8 a.m.; Lunch, 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. (Monday through Friday)
- Decatur High School: Breakfast, 7:30 to 8 a.m.; Lunch, 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. (Monday through Thursday)
Laaser said the school has been supportive of the program, and in fact, new athletic director Mike Fuller has even encouraged youth attending summer camps to eat breakfast at the school first.
Since this is the pilot year, the school district decided to operate the program only during the month of June, but next year they will possibly expand it through July and even look at offering meals at alternate locations.
Bridgeport ISD will offer a similar summer feeding program called Seamless Summer, also through the Texas Department of Agriculture. Suzana Hicks, child nutrition director at Bridgeport ISD, said this will be the third summer the school has offered the program.
Bridgeport will offer free lunches to anyone 18 or younger 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday June 9 through the end of July at the Bridgeport Elementary School cafeteria.
Hicks said that while the school district was required to offer at least one month of a summer feeding program since the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches is more than 60 percent in the district, school leaders felt it was important to offer two months of meals to students.
In addition to hot meal options for students, two other summer feeding programs that offer grocery items to qualifying families will return.
Families of Decatur ISD students who qualified for free or reduced lunches are eligible to participate in Decatur Cares. Each Tuesday, beginning June 10, families can pick up bags of groceries for food preparation at home. The program also features educational items from the Decatur Public Library and nutrition information and demonstrations by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Wise County. Distribution is 10 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays through Aug. 19.
Since the program does not receive state funding, it operates on donations. To make a donation, drop off a check at Wise Area Relief Mission (WARM) in Decatur and write “Decatur Cares” in the memo line.
A similar program, Alvord Cares, will also return for its third year. Food distribution is 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays June 17 through Aug. 19 at the First United Methodist Church in Alvord. Those in the Alvord school district who meet income eligibility requirements are asked to fill out an application. For an application for Alvord Cares, call Pam Harris at 940-393-3782 or Margaret Hunt at 940-389-7579.