Free summer meals to feed hungry students

HARLINGEN — Parents throughout the Valley rely on school as a place to teach their children when they are at work.

For many students, school is also where the majority of their meals come from.

During the summer, low-income students may have a hard time securing meals, but thanks to the summer meals program, county students will be able to find free meals at more than 50 different locations across the county.

Jackie Cruz runs the summer meals program in San Benito and said more than 2,500 San Benito students are taking advantage of the program.

“It’s such a vital program,” Cruz said. “Good nutrition is important to child development and sets the foundation to physical and mental health.”

The program is part of a statewide initiative and according to the Texas Department of Agriculture, more than 12 million free meals were served to students in need in the summer of 2017.

“The program is working,” Cruz said. “There continue to be students that rely on those meals.”

The school district is collaborating with community partners such as the Boys and Girls Club and local churches to provide even more meals to students across the city.

“During the summer, you have the kids at home and you have to feed those kids,” Cruz said. “Its an additional financial cost and this tends to relieve that burden.”

Students do not have to be part of any summer program or certain district to receive meals at any site.

At any time, a student under the age of 18 can pick up a meal or snack at nearly 50 locations throughout Cameron County for free.

Julie Baker, director of child nutrition at Harlingen CISD, said last year the district saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students taking advantage of the program.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase, but we’ve also been more active in trying to get the word out there,” Baker said.

Including partnerships and its mobile unit, HCISD has more than 38 feeding sites in the city that feeds about 3,000 students a day.

“People do appreciate this,” Cruz said. “They need it and they are taking advantage

of it.”