A summer of meals; I.J. and AHS offer free meals to students

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Austin Public Schools is adding breakfast to it summer lunch program to ensure students know where their meals are coming from over the summer.

The summer meals program is underway, with breakfast served 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m at Austin High School and I.J. Holton Intermediate School through Aug. 26.

Austin Public Schools has served up free lunches in the summer for nine years, but breakfast is aimed at filling community needs, according to Food and Nutrition Director Mary Weikum.

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She heard a story of a student who wasn’t quite meeting his or her potential in class. Eventually the teacher took the student aside, and learned the student was doing poorly in part because he or she knew summer school would come with guaranteed meals each day.

“We know that there are kids that have problems, but we didn’t realize it was possibly making them tank in school a little bit so they could know where their summer food is coming from,” Weikum said.

Community Education and Communications Director Amy Baskin agreed there’s a need in the community.

“There’s a lot of kids in our community who live in poverty,” she said. “It’s important to give them that opportunity in the summer.”

The district had previously offered breakfast only to summer school and Kids Korner students.

The summer lunch program sees an average of 900 to 1,000 students a day, and the breakfast is closer to 300, but Weikum expects it to grow over the summer and in coming years.

The need to help students with meals is nothing new and is not exclusive to Austin.

This past school year, 57 percent of Austin students qualified for free or reduced lunch and breakfast programs during the school year, which is up from closer to 35 percent when Weikum started with the district about a decade ago.

Like the free or reduced meal programs, the summer meals are funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. Across the country, Weikum said more than $16 million kids don’t know where their lunch is coming from, which just emphasizes the need for such meal programs.

“That’s a lot of kids nationwide, so I think this program is a great way to try and keep that in check,” she said.

Weikum cited many studies that show nutrition is vital to development and education, adding the studies show kids who are food insecure have more behavioral issues and a harder time learning.

“Getting their nutrition in check in helps them in so many other areas of their life,” Weikum said.

Any child ages one to eighteen is able to receive the meals. Adults can purchase a lunch for $3.80.

Breakfast and lunch are available at I.J. Holton Intermediate School, 1800 Fourth Ave. SE, and at Austin High School, 301 Third Street NW, through Aug. 26.

The summer meal programs will be closed on the Fourth of July, and Austin High School’s programs will be closed July 27 and 28.

—Alex Smith contributed to this report.