Meals on the Bus Program helps provide for kids

HARLINGEN — Christina Montalvo leaned over to hand her grandson some juice she’d just picked up on the bus.

“I really appreciate it because sometimes we are low on food,” said Montalvo, 41, as she looked down at her grandson, Bryan Roland Perez, 4.

Residents of La Casita Apartments at 1608 Sam Houston Drive lined up at the bus from the Harlingen school district. Inside, Letty Rodriguez and Mary Galpin served pizza, carrot sticks, corn and juices. This was the third and last stop of the day for the Meals on the Bus Program coordinated by the school district’s Child Nutrition Department.

“They really like it,” said Letty Rodriguez, manager of child nutrition at Harlingen High School.

Two school buses are making stops at three locations each for breakfast and again for lunch. Julio Cavazos, chief financial officer, said between 50 and 100 children are served at each stop. The program is funded by the USDA.

The stops are being made in low-income areas of the city.

Judy Baker, director of child nutrition, said the most exciting thing about the food program is that children who normally might go hungry get a meal.

La Casita Apartments, she said, was recently added to the schedule upon the recommendation of a teacher.

A steady flow of children and parents climbed on board the bus and approached a large table where hot pizza slices and other tasty mid-day treats awaited their arrival.

The free food was available only for children. Adults could pick up food only if they accompanied a child. Rodriguez had to stop one person.

“It’s only 18 and under,” she said and the young man, as if caught red-handed, stepped off the bus.

A young lady appeared caught in a moment of indecision. Rodriguez intervened to ensure the girl didn’t end up going without a mid-day meal.

“Did you forget something?” she asked. “Once you leave you can’t come back.”

Mary Galpin, manager of child nutrition at Harlingen High School South, showed an energetic joy as she served food to apartment residents.

“I am very happy to feed these kids in the summer,” Galpin said. “If they can’t come to us, we come to them.”

Natalie Palomino, 10, and her sister Christina, 11, stepped off the bus with small cardboard trays of hot pizza slices. The two girls were all smiles, ready to eat. Their friend Melanie Aranda, 11, joined them and they walked to their apartment with their uncle, Eddie Palomino.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s nice for the kids to snack. It helps the community and it’s good for the kids.”

A sizeable throng of grandchildren had followed Irene Salazar to the bus. She appreciated the school district’s efforts to help feed them.

“It’s good for the kids,” she said. Then she turned and said, “I want to get on the bus.”

The mid-day lunch runs began June 7. They will continue every weekday until the new school year begins in August.

SCHEDULE FOR FIRST BUS

* Oasis Mobile Home Park

* Southern Breeze Mobile Home Park

* La Casita Apartments

SCHEDULE FOR SECOND BUS

* Austin Elementary

* Travis Elementary

* Bonham Elementary