Berkeley school district to launch program for free summer meals

Berkeley Arts Magnet School at Whittier School is one of three local schools offering free meals in the summer.
Sam Albillo/Staff

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Berkeley Unified School District will soon offer free breakfast and lunch during the summer to people ages 18 and under, according to a Wednesday press release.

The press release stated that the program will begin June 17 and will take place at three schools: Berkeley Arts Magnet School at Whittier School, Washington Elementary School and Berkeley High School. Additionally, all children 18 and under can receive meals from the program, even if they are not taking summer classes or do not attend school in the district, according to the press release.

“Our goal is to ensure that our students and community have access to meals throughout the year so that all in our community may thrive,” said BUSD Director of Nutrition Services Bonnie Christensen in an email. “A steady nutritious diet all year long is the best recipe for positive student outcomes.”

Funding for the BUSD program comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service and is administered through the California Department of Education’s Seamless Summer Option program, the press release said. According to Christensen, the district applied to the Seamless Summer Option program and was approved after meeting eligibility requirements.

BUSD plans to continue the summer meal program each year if the program goes well and if the district continues to qualify for funding, Christensen said in the email.

According to the district’s plan for the summer, there will be no free meal service on the Fourth of July holiday. Berkeley Arts Magnet and Washington Elementary will offer free meals until Aug. 21, while Berkeley High will offer meals until July 19.

“The summer meals at Berkeley High are ending in July because that’s when summer school will end,” said BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress in an email. “We anticipate that the main demand for the meals at the high school will be from the summer school students, and since the school will have no other programs going that time, we are not well-positioned to open the school just for the meals program.”

Burress added in the email that the number of meals offered each day will vary by site and that the district plans to adjust the number of meals based on demand.

BUSD has provided summer meals for years through child care programs, summer camps and summer school programs, but these meals were previously not free or available to the public, Christensen said in the email.

An online version of the district’s summer lunch menu shows a rotating selection of meals, including pizza, burritos and pasta.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to provide our community with fresh, nutritious, made from scratch meals all year long,” Christensen said in her email.

Contact Nick Furgatch at [email protected].