Many schools around the country have stepped up and have practically turned into food banks for families in need. In Santa Cruz County, school district officials have announced that free breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup to all children throughout the summer via the new Summer Meals Program.
During a typical summer vacation, children lose access to free and reduced-priced meals that they relied on during the school year, but the Summer Meals Program provides breakfasts and lunches to anyone 18 or younger. Families do not need to meet any eligibility requirements.
There are 25 grab-and-go-style food distribution sites throughout the county. Families with children who are interested in picking up free meals may use the following instructions:
Step 1: Text message “FOOD” (or “COMIDA” for Spanish instructions) to 877-877 or call 211 for a location near you.
Step 2: Wait for a text message back, and reply with your address.
Step 3: You will receive a text with a list of the three closest meal distribution sites, with information about each site and how to proceed to pick up meals.
Pajaro Valley Unified School District—the county’s largest school district—has 10 pickup sites. Meal distributions have been on hold this week, but they’ll continue next week and run through July 24. (Pajaro Valley Unified spokesperson Alicia Jimenez says the district needed the extra week to organize the summer feeding and staffing schedules.) Santa Cruz City Schools—the county’s second-largest district—has three pickup sites. Its distributions have continued this week, and they’ll run through July 31.
The need for healthy food across the U.S. is especially high right now, according to recent research, including a Northwestern University study, which found that food insecurity doubled in April and tripled in households with children.
Santa Cruz County nonprofits that distribute food saw steep increases in demand for their services after the pandemic started. Earlier this week, Santa Cruz County’s Great Plates Delivered program got an extension through July 10, just before it was set to expire.
Second Harvest Food Bank is doing food pickups from the Beach Boardwalk and the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Grey Bears is delivering groceries to the elderly, and Meals on Wheels is delivering daily meals to seniors age 60 and over and people with disabilities.