‘Hunger doesn’t take a break in Summer’
Dozens of families gathered for a free lunch at Oak Park’s picnic area Thursday afternoon, celebrating the kickoff of the 7th annual Summer Meal Concert Series.
As hundreds of kids and their parents ate burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches served by the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s mobile café, local band Los Hermanos Cruz set the fun atmosphere with performances of Spanish songs in the first of eight concerts that will be held in Santa Barbara County during the summer to promote 52 locations throughout the county where kids 18 and under can receive a free meal without filling out paperwork.
Thursday’s event was organized by the school district in cooperation with the Foodbank of SB County and like the past seven years has been supported by the national No Kid Hungry campaign. According to SBUSD Board of Education vice president Laura Capps, the idea of promoting the county’s 52 free meal locations with a series of concerts actually came from Santa Barbara resident and Hollywood actor Jeff Bridges, who serves as No Kid Hungry’s national spokesman.
“It was his idea that we should combine music with food and make these events into a celebration, as they should be,” Ms. Capps said.
Locally, Ms. Capps assists No Kid Hungry by working with the school district’s Free Summer Food Program, which gives free meals to kids who depend on free and reduced lunch while at school. Ms. Capps explained that once summer rolls around, hunger spikes both nationally and locally, with one in five kids “food insecure.”
“During the school year, these kids rely on the free and reduced lunch program they get at school. But when they’re out of school, that’s when kids go hungry the most,” she said.
SBUSD director of food service Nancy Weiss concurred that “hunger doesn’t take a break in summer” and said that in addition to providing disadvantaged kids with nutritious food while school isn’t in session, the Free Summer Food Program is also beneficial to the school district’s food service employees.
“We increase the amount of work in our kitchens because fresh food needs people to cook it… When we serve like we do today… we get reimbursed for every meal we serve. That money goes back into the department, I’m able then to employ people during the summer when they wouldn’t normally be employed,” she said.
While the Free Summer Food Program is paid for by the federal government, its biggest challenge is making people aware of its serving locations. Ms. Capps said the concert series helps “raise awareness and attention to the fact that these are happening.”
For those who showed up at the concert, the fun atmosphere, music, and opportunity to play at the park was as much a draw as the free food. Santa Barbara resident Emily Schwabecher was in attendance with her two daughters and said the chance to have free lunch in the park was “pretty awesome.” She added that food was delicious, even though her daughters “ate like two bites because they wanted to play.”
Esteban Robles, 13, said that while he liked “how they are giving food to people around here for free,” he mostly enjoyed the music.
This was also the case for Alejandro Ramirez, 15, who was there with his brothers, sisters, and grandmother to see his uncle Luis Cruz, the drummer of Los Hermanos Cruz.
As the event came to a close shortly after 1 p.m., Ms. Weiss told the News-Press that she was happy with the kickoff.
“Nothing like whole food and live music to feed real kids,” she said.
The next concert will be on June 17 from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Grogan Park located at 1155 West Rancho Verde in Santa Maria. Those interested in going to one of the 52 summer meals sites can find them by texting SUMMERFOOD to 877-877.