By: Linda Jones and Morgan Sexton
Wayne County Schools
The Lunchbox Express kickoff event was held on Friday, June 8 in conjunction with the Health Rocks Day Camp at the ASPIRE center. In two hours, 114 children were served free meals that included hotdogs, reduced fat Doritos, fresh carrots and dip, watermelon, and milk. Each child was given a frisbee to serve as a plate in order to reduce waste, along with a backpack stuffed with sunglasses, a jump rope, and other summer fun accessories.
Mike Sullivan of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Division of School and Community Nutrition travelled from his Frankfort office to support the kick-off event. Sullivan emphasized the importance of these USDA-funded summer feeding programs. Kentucky is working to increase students’ access to meals statewide. In fact, Kentucky was fourth in the nation for an increase in summer meals served in 2017 and first highest in 2016. According to Sullivan, there are over 3000 meal opportunities across the state this summer.
KDE works with each school system to serve its unique community. “The mobile food units go where the kids are,” explained Sullivan. “We serve meals at parks, pools, cul de sacs, libraries, apartment complexes, the list goes on and on.” The biggest concern is making sure as many kids as possible have easy access to these free meals.
Food service workers from across the school district staff the Lunchbox Express kitchen. The kids enjoy seeing their familiar faces during the summer months. Ralph Reynolds, a cook at Bell Elementary, has served meals on the Lunchbox Express for four years. He has gotten to know a lot of kids who regularly stop by for lunch.
Reynolds recounted a time last summer when the Lunchbox Express “fought a storm” all the way to a lunch site. “The wind was so rough, we thought the truck was going to tip over. But we knew we had kids depending on us,” he said. “When we finally made it there, the kids were still lined up waiting. It was pouring the rain and they were still waiting on us.” To Reynolds, this story goes to show the importance of food service in the community.
All children under the age of 18 are eligible to receive a free meal from the Lunchbox Express. Adult meals can be purchased for $4 each. To find a meal site schedule anywhere in the state, text FOOD to 877877.
This is Food Service Summer Lunch Program Manager Rebecca Crabtree’s sixth year to order the food and prepare it for the summer feeding program. She not only assembles the food for the brightly colored mobile unit that travels throughout the community, but she makes meals for the students attending the 21st Century Summer Camp and the Wayne County High School summer school – not to mention Vacation Bible Schools, camps, and special events scheduled.
“We know the children from the school year, so we are familiar with a lot of them that we see in the summer,” said Wayne County Food Service Summer Lunch Manager Rebecca Crabtree, who serves as lunchroom manager at Bell Elementary during the school year. “There is a big need for this program in the summer. We see the biggest need at the Mason Greene complex and surrounding neighborhood.”
Last week was just the start of the program so the food service department is trying to get the word out to all students to participate and take advantage of the free service. The young people are used to the program because they all participate in the free community eligibility option during the school year, regardless of parental income.
The mobile unit carries the lunches prepared in the middle school kitchen each day. The mobile unit delivers the food to the various scheduled sites and the staff are able to serve warm entrees from the warming unit on board. Coolers keep the cold items fresh. Students line up at the back of the unit as the doors open widely to welcome the children. Sometimes picnics pop up on lawns next to the mobile unit.
The job is very rewarding for the food service staff. “It’s a blessing to know we can provide meals in the summer,” said Crabtree, who has worked in the summer feeding program for six years.
Aubrey Cooper, Faith Vibbert, Cora Cooper, KDE Branch Manager, Support Branch Mike Sullivan
Food Service Assistant Phyllis Burnett and her grandchildren enjoyed the kickoff event
Bell Elementary Cook Ralph Reynolds hands out lunches to Patrick (left) and Austin Jones
Hudson Dalton and Logan Cooper were given packpacks full of treats
Nutrition Specialist Helen Dalton and Bell Elementary cook Paula Sutton gave out promotional materials and information on the program
(l-r): Walker Elementary Food Service Manager Lisa Kammer, High School cook Melissa Hancock, Bell Elementary Cook Ralph Reynolds, Bell Elementary Cook Paula Sutton
Kids from the Health Rocks Camp at the Aspire Center enjoyed their lunches
The backpacks the children were given reminded them that their parents could text "FOOD" to 877877 to find out where the bus was serving food
The backpacks were full of summer goodies for the kids
The Lunchbox Express is busy this summer making rounds and feeding kids