Every year, millions of American youth rely on lunches served at school as their sole meal source for the day. Waxahachie and Ellis County are no exception.
So, when most students break for summer relaxation and travel, those same children who are dependent on cafeteria lunches during the 10-month school year are often left to fend for themselves.
Which is where dedicated Waxahachie ISD child nutrition staff like Shawna Christian, Jeanette Ybarra and Brenda Herrera come to the rescue thanks to a program started in 1968 by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“There’s a couple of kids who don’t eat," said Ybarra, after serving the last free meal of the summer at Finley Junior High courtesy of the federally-funded and state-administered USDA Summer Food Service Program.
"Some of the kids don’t have good homes to go home to," Christian elaborated. "A couple of them don’t have a good life and they are kind of on their own. So the only meal they eat might be from us. Coach Greg Gober has also opened the gym, and it allows them a place to hang out with AC, and it keeps them out of trouble.”
According to information provided on USDA.gov, the SFSP began as a three-year pilot in 1968. The following summer, states were able to offer meals to roughly 99,000 students at 1,200 sites. The number of students participating approached 2.8 million at 23,700 locations by 1977 before dropping to fewer than 1.4 million children served at approximately 14,400 sites in 1982.
The steep decline followed the passing of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, which a USDA fact sheet states "redefined 'area of poor economic conditions' to mean areas where 50 percent of children would be eligible for free and reduced-price meals, rather than one-third."
The USDA reported the number of children served by the program finally again topped 2 million in 1993 after the passing of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 1989. The number has remained relatively consistent since 1993.
Due to the continued success of the program and additional need in the community, this year marked the first for Waxahachie ISD to hold the summer lunch program at two locations — Wedgeworth Elementary and Finley Junior High. It was the first year at the junior high located on Brown Street in Waxahachie and Ybarra noted the child nutrition staff hopes to be able to continue the program there next summer. She also recalled seeing several families for the first on the last day of the program.
Waxahachie ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn thanked the dedicated child nutrition staff because "no child should ever be hungry."
“We are happy we can assist students in need through our summer feeding program," Glenn added. "Thanks to the hard work of our child nutrition staff, we were able to expand the program to two campuses this year, and we appreciate everything they do to serve our students.”
As the three women began to put things away until the first school bell in August, Christian chimed in with words often spoken by Kam Bridgers, Waxahachie ISD Director of Student Nutrition, “Food and a smile goes a long way. And it’s even better when they are together.”