Arlington School District paraeducators Deidre Fithen, left, and Annabelle Schertzinger bring out meals as part of the district's new free summer meal program that began on July 7.

The Arlington School District began a free summer meal program on June 29, which is the first time they've been able to run a food program for summer break.

Families receive a week’s worth of grab-and-go meals for kids.

Meals can be picked up on Mondays at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club from 10 a.m. to noon, the Rivercrest neighborhood (intersection of 208th Street NE and 61st Avenue NE) from 11 a.m. to noon, and at the Jordan River Trails neighborhood (at the community clubhouse) from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

On Tuesdays meals can be picked up at the Bryant Community Grange from 10 a.m. to noon and at the Trafton Store on 10 a.m. to noon. Finally, food is available at Presidents Elementary School on Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

District officials had already been planning the program before the COVID-19 school shutdowns.

"Before the extended school closure we had already planned on starting a summer lunch program," said Brian Lewis, director of operations with the school district. "The COVID situation has just added a little more urgency in operating the program.”

The community has always had students who relied on school meals for food, but with the recent spike in unemployment there are many families struggling.

"There is more need out there and we want to help meet that need," said Lewis. "Our mission is to promote the well-being of children in whatever ways we can.”

The meals are being funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of a program that funds summer lunches and breakfasts across the nation.

Traditionally that program requires sit-down lunches and is only able to be served where there is a high enough level of poverty.

"The federal government relaxed some of the regulations in how and where we could serve food this year," because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Lewis. "So now we can serve anywhere and serve meals that they could take home.”

In addition to breakfast and lunch for five days, the district is also partnering with the Arlington Community Food Bank to continue handing out their Meals 'til Monday food, which is providing a breakfast, lunch and dinner worth of food for Saturday and Sunday.

There are several components to the meals, said Lewis, including some frozen food that will need to be reheated with a stove or microwave.

"They need to be prepared to carry three to four large bags of food and be able to store those," said Lewis.

People picking up the meals do not have to register or apply. Students do not need to be part of the Arlington School District.

There is an online form at meant only for the school district to know how many meals to prepare.

"We're asking parents to complete that so we have an idea of how many meals we need to bring to each site," said Lewis.

On the program’s first day they handed out 567 meals, according to Lewis. When the district was sending out food in the spring they got up to about 1,000 to 1,200 meals.

"We want to make sure people know about the new program," said Lewis.

The summer meals program is scheduled to continue until Aug. 21. Lewis said  the district hopes to bring the program back next summer, although it may not be in exactly the same form as regulations may change or be re-instated.

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