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 is 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 beautiful San Diego summer day. Parents love the healthy food and safe environment, and the chance 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. 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.”
South Bay Union School District (SBUDS) is a member of San Diego Hunger Coalition’s (SDHC) Hunger Free Kids Task Force. The Hunger Free Kids Program provides free technical support and ongoing guidance for schools, districts, and
nonprofits working to end child hunger in San Diego. San Diego Hunger Coalition has worked with SBUSD for nearly two years on SDHC’s initiative to ensure all children have access to wholesome meals each day throughout the year, so that parents like Javier have can bring their kids to safe spaces year-round for free meals and activities.
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 was one of three in California to receive the honor. One of the services provided by SDHC is media and public relations for partners with limited resources. When the Hunger Coalition put out the call for media, KUSI News responded with an on-site interview and news segment.
“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, “It’s nice to see kids happy, and see how summer meals take the strain off of families.”
SBUSD’s Summer Meals Program is focused on bringing people together in a way that resonates with the community. Because the school district serves a lot of Imperial Beach residents who love the outdoors, many of the summer meal sites are in parks or community centers. SBUSD also serves culturally appropriate meals that appeal to kids such as tamales, grilled
cheese sandwiches, burritos, and pizza. Kids love the food, parents love the locations, and participants keep coming back year after year.
“I brought 35 kids from our summer camp with the help of 15 high school volunteers,” says Yesenia Nuñez with Casa Familiar Youth Center during an interview with San Diego Hunger Coalition. “The kids love the watermelon and corn, and they’re excited about 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, a food distribution provided by Feeding San Diego who is also a Hunger Free Kids Taskforce member 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.”
SDHC has been a long supporter of expanding child nutrition programs in South Bay and in 2018 helped the district with securing a grant to implement Breakfast in the Classroom at Berry and Central Elementary Schools, ensuring more than 500 additional kids don’t miss the most important meal of the day.