No free lunch? Try Castro | July 18, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - July 18, 2008

No free lunch? Try Castro

School district offers summer meals for minors

by Casey Weiss

A few local mothers beat the crowd and sit with their snacking toddlers on picnic benches at Castro Elementary School. Soon, as summer school classes let out for the day, the gym is hit with "controlled chaos" as nearly 350 kids queue up to grab apples, milk and pizza slices before taking over the tables.

Castro has become a neighborhood hangout over the summer, ever since the Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District started offering free meals for children here about five years ago. During the summer, as part of the federal Seamless Summer Feeding Program, anyone under 18 is able to take advantage of free breakfast and lunch at Castro, or free brunch at Crittenden Middle School.

A mix of summer school students and other children from the community show up regularly for the free food. Doors open at around 11:30, when moms show up to feed their kids. Summer school students then pour in after their classes.

"Most of the people in the neighborhood know about it," said parent Rafaela Bena as her son eats cheese pizza. "I come because he loves the pizza, and everyday he wants the pizza."

The district qualifies for this federal program since more than 50 percent of its students can receive — due to their low-income status — government-funded free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. Unlike during the academic year, over the summer students do not need to provide paperwork or proof of their parents' income to receive free lunches.

"They want to make sure 'free' and 'reduced' kids not in summer school can come eat," said Sophia Zalot, food service manager.

Approximately 52 percent of district students participate in the free and reduced food programs, with over 70 percent of Castro's student body qualifying, according to Gail Burke, director of food services. A family of three earning around $32,000 a year qualifies, allowing that family's child to buy a reduced lunch for about 40 cents.

Waiting in the long line outside with his friends, incoming fourth grader Leka Tomlataia says he comes every day because the food is even better than what he eats at home.

"Here, we eat pizza and chocolate milk," he said. "It is pretty good."

The food service employees say they have noticed an increase in students at the summer lunch programs this year with the economy not doing as well, and expect more students to receive free and reduced lunches during the school year.

While they served about 280 lunches last year, there are now around 350 people coming for free summer meals, and Burke said she notices a rise among community members who are not in summer school. All told, there are nearly 400 summer school students this year, but only some of them stay for the meals.

"Our numbers will probably continue to grow," Zalot said. "It is hard to stretch the dollar."

The district changes its menu every weekday, offering turkey franks, sandwiches and burritos on Tuesdays, for example, and chicken and corn dogs or cheese pizzas on Fridays. The meals come with milk, vegetables and fruit each day.

"Our district is pretty good about making sure everyone has something," Zalot said.

By 12:30, almost 20 minutes after staff started serving meals, there is still a line outside the cafeteria. The community members have mostly left, and the dozen or so tables are completely taken over by students.

Angelique Visnicker, a soon-to-be second grader at Monta Loma, eats her cheese pizza and chats with a friend. She says the free food is the best part about summer school. As she starts on her fruit, her father, Otto Gomez, unsuccessfully tries to pull her away.

"She enjoys it here," he said.

E-mail Casey Weiss at


Posted by Liz, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

There is still no free lunch, unless you are here illegally.
Beside, ccorn dogs and cheese pizzas and chocolate milk? Why not just contribute more to childhood obesity and diabites?

The Castro area is a slum, although some may claim is it over flowing with "diversity". The district is more in the business of attracting warm bodies so it can charge the state for the poor quality of education it provides.

Posted by GSB, a resident of Castro City
on Jul 18, 2008 at 9:49 am


Buzzkill much?

Posted by Joker, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 18, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Seriously, Liz could be the next Batman villain.

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 18, 2008 at 5:59 pm

"Unlike during the academic year, over the summer students do not need to provide paperwork or proof of their parents' income to receive free lunches."

Translated, no use holding any one accountable for taxpayers' money. It's like what goes on at the MV Senior Center, a bunch of elderly Asians pull up in their Mercedes Benzes for the free grocery bags of food. No need to prove you actually qualify for handouts.

Posted by shawn, a resident of Shoreline West
on Jul 19, 2008 at 6:43 am

I think Liz has a good point. The food is junk, and it just perpetuates a reliance on welfare. People who are in need should at least have to prove their income and legal status.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 19, 2008 at 9:12 am

First, buzzkill is urban slang and used incorrectly here. Urban slang is most often reverted to by people who are incapable of logical thought.

On topic, however, this is an old scam and a moral hazard. The district makes money off each lunch it provides for free, since the Federal reimbursement rate is higher than the cost of the program. Then, during the school year, the district doesn't hold parents accountable for paperwork proving low-income qualification.

Past Voice articles will show that the district loses money during the school year on free lunches and breakfasts. And it's a shame that the Voice constantly struggles with providing real jouranlistic endeavor when it covers a story such as this. Hint: there are many sides to a story, beyond the superficial and visual realm, or that which the school district shoves down your throat. But wait... this article's overly simplistic approach was designed to appeal purely to the emotions of readers with, say, a fifth grade education at best... but that would comprise at least 50% of the Mountain View's population.

If you want more of a scam, look into the company, Sodexho, that is contracted to provide food service to the school district. It's that same Fortune 500 multinational company that provides junk food to schools and prisons across the country and in the UK. And don't think for a minute that this company is not in it for anything beyond a PROFIT at the expense of children's health.

Solutions: Get some real leadership in the school district and school board to clean this mess up. Demand accountability and provide high-quality food during the summer rather than trying to spin a profit. During the school year do the same. Hire a non-profit company to provide food service. Lastly, demand better reporting from your local paper. As of now, it's struggling to keep up with a high school paper.

Posted by Ellen, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 21, 2008 at 11:14 am

Enough!: Why call for accountability when the school district it happy as long as someone else is paying the bill, meaning the federal government and US taxpayers. This is why every program from social security to medicare is in grave jeopardy.

Posted by sick, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jul 21, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Wait if the kids at landels can't get lunch without being hassled.
Cut backs and all how is it the district gives free lunch during the summer. The district needs to be called on this bs!!!!!

Posted by Ted, a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 21, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I fail to understand why the district can't keep good records and keep track of who qualifies for a free lunch during the school year and who is not paying. And then to completely blow off accountability during the summer??? If they can't do this basic principle of management and accounting than I cringe to think of how they manage and account for every other action that is undertaken, namely providng quality instruction to students. This must be why Mt. View schools perform poorly when stacked up against other schools in the area.

Posted by resident, a resident of Castro City
on Jul 21, 2008 at 4:28 pm

The real point here is that good money is being wasted on junk food and that low-income parents are too dumb or lazy or both to recognize it. The NYT came out with an article several years ago about malmutrition in low-income areas. Low-income residents would rather shop at a convenience store, like 7-11, than walk a little to a real store where they can save money and get better food. There are two 7-11s wihin a block of Castro and they are full of the same people that are lining up for free food.

Posted by MG, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 21, 2008 at 6:38 pm

The school district, the state, the federal government can no longer afford to run programs that demand no accountability!

Posted by Andy, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 22, 2008 at 10:16 am

Wake up MVWSD you've been asleep at the wheel to long.

Posted by Zoe, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 22, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Unfortunately, MVWSD relies on parents to be apathetic and inactive. School board seats go uncontested. Few really care.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jul 22, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Acountability can begin with some ICE agents standing at the front of the line. They represent federal law and can easily tackle this issue.

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 23, 2008 at 10:11 am

ICE may be a little extreme.

To quote the illustrious Voice:

District lost thousands in unpaid lunches

The Mountain View Whisman School District estimates that it lost close to $20,000 in the 2006-07 school year due to students who did not pay for their $3 lunches.

Posted by lisa, a resident of Rex Manor
on Jul 23, 2008 at 10:47 am

If the district lost 20,000 how is it they can afford free lunches?
I doubt the district will deal with these issues. If you've ever gone to a district meeting it seems to me they just drink soda, ask for more money and go for bike rides to Sacramento.

Posted by Ned, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

Gee Lisa, do you think so? I thought it was just crazy me that noticed this. They scream for more money, and do nothing to try to stop wasting it.

Posted by Kim, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 23, 2008 at 6:40 pm

MVWSD has had four superintendents in thirteen years. that can't be good.

Posted by Carol, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 24, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Incredible. They raise your taxes for schools but make no effort to be accountable for lunches served!

Posted by resident, a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2008 at 7:05 pm

Notice that it said the district qualified for this "federal program." Meaning different pot of money than for regular school year lunches, or for anything else. My guess is they either use it on summer school lunches, or they don't get it. Has nothing to do with how they manage their budget, this money wouldn't be available to them if they did not use it for summer lunches. And, since it's federal money, you can bet they are administering it exactly as the feds require--that money always comes with long strings and strict instructions. Also--even if none of the famiilies in MV were illegal, there would still be kids needing free lunch--we'd just have "legals" working the minimum-wage and lower jobs, and it would btheir kids who were hungry. The poor kids would still be among us, still needing food. Get off the xenophobia, already.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 24, 2008 at 7:15 pm

It's morons like you and that different pot of money arguement that is sinking this economy and ruining this country. Last time I checked, I'm writing a tax check to the federal government. I don't like to see it wasted by lazy bureaucrats at a public schools district. Either way it does not excuse the district of keeping good paperwork, translated as accouontability. Besides, the school district makes money off this program, don't think they don't Better to send the money back to the Federal government.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2008 at 10:47 pm

So, Enough, your argument focuses on the fact that the districts service provider is a for-profit company-- show us the NFP operator that will provide the service at comparable cost. Also, you claim that the district profits over the program. Prove it.

Posted by Liz, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 25, 2008 at 9:01 am

You're so smart, eric, you prove it.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jul 25, 2008 at 9:28 am

Sorry, eric, it's insider information. I don't want to jeopardize my source. But you can research it on line apparently. Lord knows you seem to have plenty of time on your hands. I certainly hope you are not a public employee doing this from work.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2008 at 10:47 am

Enough, most public employees (I'm not one) dont clock in at midmight when I made that post (Im making this one from my balckberry while waiting for someone to show up for a meeting, if you're that concerned about my free time). If your going to make a charge, you should be willing to back it up. If its online as you say, enlighted us and point us in the right direction.

Liz, relax. You'll enjoy life more. Whats wrongt with questioning a statement presented as fact without backup?