A new pilot program being auditioned in the Putnam City school district is aimed at helping food insecure children have at least one decent meal a day, thanks to the help of a federal grant.
The program is being funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture until June 30. The district uses two buses to deliver free lunches to seven schools within the district. Find the list here.
The sack lunches are filled with a sandwich, chips, fruit, a drink and a small carton of milk along with a sweet treat. According to officials at the company making the lunches, Sodexo, the lunches meet USDA balanced nutrition requirements.
“We couldn't get kids to come to school for summer school the way we would like to, so now we're trying to take the food to the children in places that they could come and get it,” district Director of Transportation, Joel Illgen said.
Feeding students over the summer isn't anything new for Putnam City schools, the district used to serve lunches when school was out, but budget cuts have made that difficult, Illgen said.
Hungry Putnam City students aren't alone. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 242,990 children in Oklahoma are food insecure, meaning they aren't always so sure where their next meal is coming from.
“When kids aren't going to school and sometimes it's hard. Parents are at work and it's hard to not be able to afford it. I think it's really, it's a really awesome thing,” Traci Kipf said.
Kipf brought her two nieces and two nephews to Wiley Post Elementary in Oklahoma City for lunch Thursday. On top of a decent lunch, the kids can also pick out a book; something educators hope will feed their appetite for learning when they're not in class.
“Food for thought. Feeding the body and the mind!” Illgen said with a laugh.
Before becoming director of transportation, Illgen worked for more than 20 years as a band teacher and a principal.
Despite the program only being a month, district officials are hoping it catches on, to let students and their families know they'll be there after class is dismissed.
"It's really important, because when you have food, you feel good,” Illgen said. “You're able to be a part of something whatever that may and have a better life than when you're hungry.”
Children who do not go to Putnam City Schools are still eligible for a free lunch. Adults can also get a lunch, but will have to pay $3.50.