Changes in free summer lunch program upset some

A popular food program is making its return to the South Kitsap School District this summer, but some aspects have drawn concern from parents.

The Free Summer Lunch program will provide meals to children 18 years old and younger in Port Orchard. Director of Food and Nutrition Services Aaron Bradford said the program has provided many benefits over the years.

“It helps get nutritious meals to where they need to go,” he said. “It helps a lot with food insecurities over the summer, and it’s a great supplement to their daily routine.”

Many of the children who participate already receive free or reduced lunch during the school year, and families use the program to reduce grocery costs.

Amy Miller, the district’s communication and public information officer, said, “I think that there’s a lot of need in our community for meals, and the summer lunch program helps fill that gap.”

One change is the program will operate just four days a week, Monday through Thursday, instead of five like before.

“Why?” asked Libby McGuirk, whose niece attends school in South Kitsap. “If it was working before, why wouldn’t it just keep working, you know?”

The elimination of Friday was not taken well by some, including school board member Jeff Daily. He said, “The lunch program is important and serves a need in PO. The legislature has money and needs to continue to fund this program for our community.”

Another criticism is the lack of a “grab and go” method of distributing meals, which would allow children to take their meals offsite and back home.

The district commented on the concerns on its Facebook page, noting efforts to follow federal and state regulations in its decision-making.

The district also said that the meals “have to be eaten on site.” The only exception being allowed in South Kitsap will be at the Waterfront Gazebo, where sack lunches will be provided each Wednesday.

Another school board member, John Berg, said that parents should simply be happy that the program is still here to benefit them and their families. “There is an old saying, ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’, meaning don’t investigate or complain about its age — it’s a gift horse. We can’t please everyone and whatever we do, someone will find something to complain about,” he said.

Daily said that decision about grab-and-go lacked the consideration of parents. “The district needs to listen to parent needs versus making a decision on their own. It is the parent/student needs we are here to serve. Not providing ‘grab and go’ is but one example,” he said.

Parents such as Julia Watkins said, “With not having grab and go, we don’t have easy access to lunches for my children.”

While Daily said more work needs to be done, he is thankful that the program has returned. “Anytime we can help our parents and students, that is good, especially given the inflation we are facing,” he said.

Lunch is being served at East Port Orchard Elementary from noon to 1:15 p.m.; Orchard Heights Elementary from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; Marcus Whitman Middle school from 10:30-11:30 a.m.; and South Kitsap High School from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)

Wednesday sacks lunches will be provided at the Port Orchard Waterfront Gazebo from noon to 12:15 p.m.

Menus for the meals can be found on the South Kitsap Food and Nutrition website.