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Local Program Delivers Thousands Of Summer Meals To Kids That School Districts Can’t Reach

The sun is just creeping over the horizon on a hot July day. It’s only about 80 degrees, but everyone is already drenched in sweat because they’ve been packing and hauling dozens of 40-pound plastic tubs full of food onto a fleet of white vans.

“[We’ve got] orange juice, cereal, apples and milk. And then for lunch, we got sandwiches with ham and chips,” says David Jones, who’s one of several people working with AmeriCorps.

The public service organization, in partnership with Dallas’ CitySquare, delivers thousands of these meals to kids in need each day across North Texas. Jones is out here every morning to make sure nothing gets in the way of kids getting to eat.

“I got 17 grandkids, and I kind of know what that means when you don’t got too much food going on in the household,” Jones says. “These people here got a heart of gold. I know there’s going to be a lot of happy kids.”

This food delivery program is called Food on the Move. It’s designed to fight food insecurity, which is what happens when kids don’t have reliable access to meals.

'The need hasn't gone down'

In Dallas, about 90 percent of students rely on free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches through the National School Lunch Program. But after school lets out for the summer, many of them end up going without regular, nutritious meals for weeks.

Some school districts, like the Dallas Independent School District, do offer free summer meals to students on school campuses, but a lot of things can stand in the way. For instance, some kids don’t have the transportation to get to the meal sites, and some families don’t know their children qualify for free and reduced-price meals outside the school year.

Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News
David Jones works with AmeriCorps, which has partnered with Dallas-based CitySquare, to feed thousands of hungry children in North Texas this summer.

That’s why Food on the Move delivers hundreds of thousands of summertime meals to the kids that school districts can’t reach. The local program not only meets kids out in their communities, like at YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs, but also brings them food straight to their homes.

Through 150 meal sites, the program serves about 5,000 meals each day over the summer, says Kay Thomason, the senior director of food programs at CitySquare, the nonprofit that runs Food on the Move.

According to Feeding America, about one in four kids is food insecure in North Texas, and for the past 10 years, Food on the Move has tried to make a dent in that statistic.

“Unfortunately, the need hasn’t gone down. It seems there’s more and more kids,” Thomason says. “And even though there is such a great need, we’re only reaching about 20 percent of the kids who qualify for free or [reduced-price] meals during the school day.”

'I do it for the kids'

And a proposed overhaul of the Farm Bill, which administers federal food assistance, may make it even harder for families to feed their kids. Thomason says Food on the Move, which takes federal funding, hasn’t seen any cutbacks.

But no matter what happens in Washington, Thomason says her group will do everything it can to make sure vans continue to roll out every day, hitting up apartment complexes in Arlington, Lewisville, Irving, Grand Prairie, Garland and South Dallas.

Credit Stephanie Kuo / KERA News
Children play outside Rancho Valencia apartments in Dallas, Texas, after eating a free meal delivered by Food on the Move.

That’s where about a dozen kids are sitting on a grassy knoll at the Rancho Valencia apartments, eating their apple slices and ham sandwiches atop a big picnic blanket.

After they eat, they get to play. They shoot water guns, jump rope, compete in hula hoop contests, and they play Uno.

Eric Lopez, a team lead for Food on the Move, says the days he spends at Rancho Valencia — and all the other apartments on his route — has helped him build relationships with each and every kid. He says he wants them to know they’re cared for and valued.

“I do it for the kids. I’ve been a part of the struggle where meals don’t come as often as they can or they should. It’s rough,” Lopez says. “It makes eating and [hunger] a big part of your life and you don’t have a chance to enjoy anything else.”

Lopez says with full bellies and an hour every day to run, laugh, scream and be kids, he hopes they’re giving them the summer they deserve.

Former KERA staffer Stephanie Kuo is an award-winning radio journalist who worked as a reporter and administrative producer at KERA, overseeing and coordinating editorial content reports and logistics for the Texas Station Collaborative – a statewide news consortium including KERA, KUT in Austin, Houston Public Media and Texas Public Radio in San Antonio.