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Free summer meal program helps Oakland families

on June 17, 2011

The last bell of the school year rang for Oakland school students on Thursday. But where to swim, travel or play sports aren’t the only questions these newly liberated youth—or their parents—have on their minds. How to provide daily, nutritious meals is a more immediate concern this summer for low-income families and the 20,000 children that depend on reduced-price meals during the school year.

The Free Summer Meal Program offered by the City of Oakland and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is helping to bridge the gap by providing access to free nutritious meals to kids while school is out of session. “If this wasn’t available it would be a really difficult summer for a lot families,” said Jennifer Le Barre, the director of Nutrition Services for the OUSD.

According to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, 35 percent of people who rely on the food bank are children under the age of 18.  Twenty-five percent of households with children served by the food bank report that their children had skipped meals due to a lack of food and money in the previous 12 months.

Providing summer lunch plays an important role in battling childhood hunger and obesity. Studies by the USDA have found that children who eat school breakfast and lunches have a healthier diet than those who do not: They drink more milk, eat more fruits and vegetables, and consume less saturated fat. The free summer meals helps students to continue these healthy habits even when school is out of session.

More than 110 schools and community sites throughout Oakland are participating in the program, which begins on June 20 and ends August 19.

Community-based organizations like the Franklin Recreation Center, located in Central Oakland, are among the designated sites that provides breakfast and lunch each day. Program director Rebecca Chhom said her site serves up to 150 people every day. “We are in an area where there are a lot of low-income families who need that meal,” she said. “For some kids this may be the only nutritious meal they may be able to get.”

The free summer lunch program is not just open to OUSD students or children under 18. Siblings, parents and any community member in need of a meal are invited to eat at any of the 110 sites. “We’re wanting to become a community school district,” Le Barre said, “not just focusing on the school day or the school year, but really reaching out our arms to the community to provide the services that are needed so that we can have a healthy community.”

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was created by Congress in 1968. Overseen by the USDA and administered in California by the California Department of Education Nutrition Services Division, the program is designed to provide funds for eligible sponsoring organizations to serve nutritious meals to low-income children when school is not in session.  In 2009, Congress appropriated over $350 million for the program.

In Oakland, the free summer meal program has been active for the last five years. Each meal is intended to be healthy and well-balanced. A typical lunch, Chomm said, consists of salad, fruit, milk and a sandwich made with meat from grass-fed cows and bread that’s made with whole wheat.

“The kids get really excited for the food,” Chomm said, “and they’re always wanting seconds, which we’re not always able to provide.”

Last year, 123 sites distributed more than 193,000 free summer meals.

There are no requirements or paperwork to access these meals. Visit the City of Oakland’s Human Services website to find a list of current sites.



  1. Brian on June 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    What is the cost of the Free Summer Meal Program administered by the OUSD? What is the cost per meal served? Why haven’t you reached out to critics of programs such as these?

    Come on. I’m not asking you to do investigative journalism, but I think it behooves a journalist to report on the basics — like how much money is involved — and to reach out to both sides of a story.

  2. […] added the Free Summer Lunch Program that Carmen Flores Recreation Center participates in does provide extra support for families in the […]

  3. Summer on July 8, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Is there really a “con” side to feeding hungry children? I can tell you lunches cost < $2 each. It's much less expensive than the societal costs we pay w/o it. Kids who eat healthy food save us $ on healthcare, perform better in school and are therefore likely to earn higher incomes and pay more taxes.

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