One snafu with summer meal programs that offer free meals to children—particularly in rural districts—is that more often than not, the students who need the meals the most are the ones that do not have transportation to get to the feeding sites. The San Marcos (Texas) Independent School District, home to 8,800 students, over 6,000 of whom receive free and reduced-price lunches, found a solution by converting a district school bus into a homegrown meals on wheels program.
The district has traditionally offered free breakfast and lunch on school campuses during the summer to all children from birth to 18 years of age. In 2010, the district expanded its program beyond schools to a neighborhood park and church, which served an additional 5,000 meals over the summer. Despite the program’s expansion, there were still many students who lived over 10 miles from a feeding site and who weren’t being accounted for.
This past summer, Mike Boone, associate director of San Marcos’ child nutrition department, had the idea to purchase a school bus from the district’s fleet and convert it into a bus that could transport meals to students at five additional sites throughout the neighborhood. The bus was purchased for about $1,500 through the child nutrition department’s surplus fund, and air-conditioning, appliances to serve hot and cold meals, and an exterior paint job were added.
According to Boone, approximately 100 students are served daily across the five sites served by the school bus. Making each stop for roughly half an hour each day was the most cost-effective way to reach these students without opening up entirely new feeding sites. The meals are paid for entirely through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch and Breakfast program.
“Kids really need these nutritious meals in the summertime just as much as they do during the school year,” says Boone. “Many of these kids are not getting meals at home due to circumstances beyond their control. If it wasn’t for this program, many wouldn’t be getting a meal at all.”