Southwestern Arizona schools providing free summer meals

July 6, 2019 GMT

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Some southwestern Arizona schools are offering free summer meals to children in one of the poorest regions of the state.

The Yuma Sun reports the schools are taking advantage of a federal program aimed at helping students on free or reduced cost meal programs during the school year.

Crane School District, Yuma Elementary School District One and Yuma Union High School District all have free summer lunch programs, reimbursed by the USDA’s summer food service program.

The schools have more than two dozen locations where breakfast, lunch and evening snacks are served.

The U.S. Census estimates that Yuma County has a poverty rate of 19%.

“I think we have an obligation to kids’ well-being,” said District One Superintendent Jamie Sheldahl. “That’s why we have summer school for kids that need to do some catching up, and we have several programs for migrant students and so on.”

Sheldahl says about 70% of kids in his district qualify for free or reduced lunches.

Yuma Community Food Bank CEO Shara Whitehead says 35.5% of Yuma County children live in “food-insecure homes.”

The Crane district serves breakfast and lunch at six different schools, cooking up favorites such as waffles, spaghetti, enchiladas and burgers.

“I’m grateful for the position that I’m in,” said Michael Clark, Crane’s director of school nutrition. “Because I have the ability to fill that need. It’s hard for me to know that there are children within our community, within our own city, within our neighborhoods, that behind closed doors, they maybe don’t get anything to eat.”

Parents and family can also eat for cheap. Crane charges $3.50 for lunch and $2.50 for breakfast, and District One and Yuma Union charge $2.50 for lunches.

“We want our community to feel like it’s part of. where they can go and just relax,” Clark said.

For decades, Yuma has struggled with poverty. It’s home to many farmworkers and birthplace of the late farmworkers’ union leader Cesar Chavez.