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By: Jenn Rowell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Almost half of the students in Great Falls qualify for free and reduced lunch and during the long summer break, the school district has a new tool to help ensure they are still getting meals.
Jennifer Spellman, director of school nutrition services and warehouse for Great Falls Public Schools, and Johanna Monson Geerts, Great Falls’ Montana No Kid Hungry AmeriCorps member, unveiled a new food trailer during Monday’s school board meeting.
The district has offered summer meal programs in the past and will continue to offer breakfast at East Middle weekdays from June 13-Aug. 12, except July 4. The breakfast is free to kids 18 and younger and $2.25 for adults. Parents must accompany their children.
But this year, they’re adding a mobile lunch program and the trailer will be used to transport lunch meals to four locations in the city beginning June 13. The lunch is also free to kids 18 and younger and $3.75 for adults.
The district receives a federal reimbursement for meals served through the program, but the trailer was purchased and painted with $23,000 in grant funding and donations. No Kid Hungry provided a $15,000 grant; Benefis Health System provided $5,000; Benefis Foundation Youth Grant gave $2,500; Uptown Optimist Club gave $500; and Benefis Pediatrics sponsored the signage.
The trailer is a “dream turned to reality,” Spellman said during Monday’s meeting.
GFPS is partnering with Great Falls Park and Rec to have lunch stops in Gibson, Rhodes and Lions parks, as well as activities with the park attendant program that is coming back this year through grants through United Way, Get Fit Great Falls and Benefis.
East Middle is the food production site and at the parks and Valley View Elementary groups such as First Peoples Buffalo Jump, GFCMSU nursing students, Fish Wildlife and Parks, Big Bear, will provide activities throughout the summer.
The program is “enrichment to kids who might not be able to go to summer camp,” Geerts said Monday.
Continuing to offer the lunches in a single location was an option, but transportation was a challenge for some families during the summer.
“We’re going to where the people are, and where the kids are and where the hungry kids are,” Superintendent Tammy Lacey said Monday.
GFPS trustee Jason Brantley said he was initially unaware of the number of food insecure students in the district.
“Some of them really have a rough time finding adequate nutrition” during summer break, he said.
The trailer will offer salad and sandwich combinations and menu items such as hot dogs, hamburgers or barbecue sandwiches.
“We’ll switch it up and make it summer fun,” Spellman said Tuesday.
The menu will be similar to regular school menus and follow school guidelines, she said.
They plan to start at 10:30 a.m. at Gibson Park when the program starts June 13 but are doing test runs Wednesday to finalize the timetable they’ll use during the summer.
They can only serve lunch during a set period of time and if the numbers of students exceed what they’re expecting at each site, they may adjust their schedule later in the summer.
Geerts said activities will likely start about 30 minutes before the trailer arrives, to get kids to the lunch sites and to provide a safe place to play during the summer.
Activities will last about an hour at each site and range from sports, gardening and arts and crafts.
If any individuals or organizations want to provide activities for the summer program, call Geerts at 268-7462.
A kickoff celebration is planning for 9 a.m. June 16 in Gibson Park with activities and music.