In 2019, South Bay Union School District received the United States Department of Agriculture’s Turnip the Beet gold award which recognizes outstanding Summer Meal Program sponsors for their work offering high-quality meals that are appetizing, appealing, and nutritious. SBUSD received this national recognition for their incredible programs throughout the Southern San Diego region which serve over 800 kids every day at 9 or more sites each year from June through July.
“It’s really important to make sure these kids are getting enough healthy food to eat during the summer,” says Ana Castro, Registered Dietitian for South Bay Union School District during an interview with KUSI News, “Our summer is six weeks long, we provide summer meals for five weeks.”
Started in 2010, SBUSD’s Summer Meals Program is focused on bringing people together in a way that resonates with the community. The school district serves a lot of Imperial Beach residents who relish the outdoors, so many of their summer meal sites are in parks or community centers. With a majority of
their kids coming from white or Hispanic families, SBUSD also serves culturally appropriate meals that appeal to kids such as tamales, grilled cheese, burritos, and pizza. Kids love the food, parents love the locations, and participants keep coming back year after year.
“I brought 35 kids and 15 high school volunteers,” says Yesenia Nuñez with Casa Familiar Youth Center, a local nonprofit. “The kids love the watermelon and corn, and they’re excited because last year, this playground wasn’t done and now they get to play in the new playground!”
A cornerstone of SBUSD’s Summer Meals Program are weekly BBQ’s. SBUSD invites families to a different site every week so that they can reach as many kids as possible. Hosted in partnership with the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, every BBQ includes fun activities such as Zumba, live music, free curated samples of fresh produce, and fire and police department meet and greets.
“Our slogan is to eat smart and play hard, and we really try to emphasize that,” says Manuel Gonzalez, District Manager with San Diego Parks and Recreation, “this partnership is so important, we wouldn’t be able to do it without South Bay Union School District. This is really a manifestation of all of the resources available to the community.”
On a sunny Wednesday in mid-July, over 100 kids gather at the Cesar Chavez Community Center in San Ysidro for burgers, hot dogs, watermelon, corn, milk, and juice. There are music, activities, face painting, and a chance to meet and play games with local police officers. Spread out amongst picnic tables, blankets, playgrounds, and benches, families enjoy a relaxing and beautiful San Diego summer day. Parents are clearly appreciative of the healthy food and safe environment, and the opportunity for their kids to do something fun.
“I’ve lived here for 35 years, this is the first time I’ve come,” says Javier, a father of two girls. “There didn’t used to be much in this park, but they’ve really built it up, that’s why we came.” Javier’s daughters are enjoying watermelon, low-fat milk, hotdogs, and corn on the cob. “I’ve been financially strapped lately, so BBQs like this are great to give my kids something to do during the summer. I wish there were more activities like this.”