Last year, nearly 2,000 students in the Mountain View Whisman School District qualified for free or reduced lunch — 41 percent of the student population. Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency, said this causes a real problem during the summer months.
"It's a huge problem," Myers said. "We have kids who depend on those free and reduced lunches, and it's an increasing hardship for families."
The school district is offering free breakfast and lunch through July 25 at Castro Elementary School. The program will help kids who rely on school meals throughout the school year, but is open to anyone under 18 years old. The district's summer lunch program serves 400 meals each day — up from last year, according to Terese McNamee, chief business officer for the school district.
The uptick is still down from meals served in 2008, however, when the district hosted summer food programs at two sites — Graham Middle School and Castro. At the time, the district provided 600 meals a day. The district downsized the summer school program in 2009 to cut costs, leaving only one summer food site.
And that one site is open for only an hour for each meal, starting at 7:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. But there are other options. Cindy McCown, vice president of programs and services at Second Harvest Food Bank, said there are two other summer meal sites for youth in Mountain View that are open through Aug. 15: the YMCA camp at Monta Loma Elementary and the Moffett Clubhouse, which also have food available to kids 18 or younger. McCown said these are "open sites," meaning that anyone can get food there regardless of whether they're enrolled in on-site programming.
Despite the limited locations and hours, McCown said the city's food services have "pretty good coverage" thanks to year-round pantry programs like CSA's Food and Nutrition Center.
Community Services Agency is a regional nonprofit that provides social services for people in Mountain View and Los Altos, and receives food from Second Harvest for distribution. Jim Boin, the CSA developmental director, said they provided about 532,000 pounds of food last year to thousands of families through their Food and Nutrition Center. Boin said they get about 800 to 900 people a week, almost 200 a day, coming in for food supplements.
The Food and Nutrition Center is a bit more sophisticated than your typical pantry program. Myers said they prioritize high-protein foods such as eggs, milk and cheese to make sure kids are getting enough protein in their diets.
"It's not just handing out a can of peaches and a loaf of broad," Myers said.
The program also includes workshops to teach people about nutrition and healthful eating, including how to shop on a limited budget and how to shop for more healthful foods. Though the program does not cook or serve meals, as the summer food sites do, Boin said they provide recipes for turning the food they're bringing home into a meal their families will want to eat.
Myers said 40 percent of the clients who benefit from the Food and Nutrition Center are children.
One of the challenges facing these food programs is outreach. Myers said there are a number of options out there, but people have to know about them first to benefit from them.
CSA's outreach campaign includes its nutrition programs as well as fliers and ads with information to get the word out to as many people as possible. Second Harvest posts a list of locations and addresses for summer meal sites on its website, shfb.org, as well as a "food connection" hotline for people to find out about summer meal programs and pantry programs, and whether they are eligible for food stamps. The toll free number is 1-800-984-3663.
McCown said Second Harvest is also running a summer initiative to get family doctors and pediatricians, especially in low-income communities, to let their patients know about food service options in the area. McCown said it's one of the most effective ways to get the word out.
Despite the improving economy, the number of people in need of food services remains high. The number of meals served and pounds of food are holding steady from 2008 levels across most food service agencies in Mountain View.
"In the Bay Area, we're rebounding economically, which is a good thing," McCown said. "But families are still having trouble, especially with rental prices being so high."
According to Boin, the economy is improving, but not for everyone. He said there are still plenty of families in the Bay Area that are living paycheck to paycheck, or are being displaced from their homes because they can't afford the high cost of living.
He said they're even providing food for people who are using food stamps to bolster their diets.
"Anything we can do to contribute," Boin said. "Every little bit helps."