Summertime drives the smell of food trucks through some Kansas City streets, but many residents can’t afford to buy anything from them, according to Harvesters Community Food Network.
Some households are forced to choose between food and utilities every month, and food insecurity is highest in summer, when children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches don’t have those same resources.
But Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools is working to address what school officials call an alarming problem. The district is partners with Healthy Communities Wyandotte on a summer food program with 50 sites around the county providing healthy, free meals to youths ages 18 and under and the parents who bring them.
A food truck is now part of the effort to deliver meals to young Wyandotte County residents.
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“With food insecurity in Wyandotte County being 18.1 percent, it is extremely important that we are able to provide healthy, nutritious meals to our children and the adults that accompany them,” said Josh Mathiasmeier, the school district’s director of nutritional services.
The district’s new food truck transports a cornucopia of meal options to four of those sites. It displays artwork from Central Middle School seventh-grader Esperanca Santoyo, who won a truck design competition. The newly decorated truck made its debut June 5, the first day of the Summer Food Service Program.
The program will feed about 4,000 youths this summer, made possible through a collaboration between the school district and Healthy Communities Wyandotte, with $39,500 through a Cities Combating Hunger Through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs grant. A $5,000 grant from Humana and The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County will pay for parent meals during the summer.
Alicia King, the first school district food truck driver, brings the packaged meals to Strawberry Hill Farmers Market on Wednesday mornings and to Bethany Park, Splitlog Farm and Heathwood Spray Park every weekday.
On a recent day, she waved at families walking into Heathwood and called out to the moms with hungry kids. They gulped chocolate milk and spread grape jelly on wheat crackers. King said the menu changes daily, and most of the sites have been popular so far.
“Down here at Heathwood, we’ve fed anywhere from 30 to 85 people a day,” King said. “Today, we have some butter, because a lot of people have allergies to peanuts, and then we have grape jelly, cheese sticks, wheat crackers, raisins, applesauce and chocolate milk.”
For a full list of dates, times and sites for the Wyandotte Summer Meal Program, visit Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools’ nutritional services website.