More than 20 Big Island schools will offer free meals for children this summer through the state Department of Education’s summer food service program, Seamless Summer Option.
Beginning early this month, the SSO program will be available at 71 public schools throughout the state free of charge to all children 18 years old and younger.
Meals will be served at select locations Monday-Friday, except June 11 (King Kamehameha Day) and Independence Day.
Participating Big Island schools are: Hilo High, Hilo Intermediate, Ka‘u High, Ke Kula O Nawahi Public Charter School, Keaau Elementary, Keaau High, Keaau Middle, Kealakehe High, Kealakehe Intermediate, Keaukaha Elementary, Keonepoko Elementary, Kohala Elementary, Kohala High, Kohala Middle, Konawaena High and Intermediate, Mountain View Elementary, Naalehu Elementary and Intermediate, Pahoa High and Intermediate, Waiakea High, Waiakea Intermediate and Waimea Elementary.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SSO was established to ensure low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer.
Eligible schools must have 50% or more of regular enrolled students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches and some type of summer program on campus.
Meal recipients do not have to be enrolled in those classes to be served.
“The (DOE) is excited to see an increase in the number of schools that have stepped up to feed our keiki this summer. This is typically a period of time where our most vulnerable students do not have access to services that they normally would during the school year,” said Dann Carlson, assistant superintendent, Office of School Facilities and Support Services, in a news release. “Our hope is that more students will enjoy a free meal, simply by stopping by one of our participating schools.”
“I think that it goes back to the idea of the school being the hub of the community, and if we can bring back more of that mentality — that the school is here to support whatever happens in the community and support community efforts — I think (it) will go a long way in everybody’s goals …,” said Waiakea Elementary Principal Scott Tamura.
Traditionally, about 74% of Waimea Elementary’s students have qualified for free or reduced meals, he said.
“We definitely have a large population of students and families that need extra assistance during the school year, and it doesn’t just end during the (summer),” Tamura said. A family’s situation “doesn’t change just because we’re on summer break.”
Kristin Frost Albrecht, executive director of The Food Basket, Hawaii Island’s Food Bank, said federal programs such as SSO are “wonderful. We love them in terms of what they can provide” to families, but, because of the size and rural nature of the Big Island, they might be limited in who they can serve “just because of the fact that we don’t have the transportation.”
According to Albrecht, the food bank sees a lager volume of requests for food during the summer, particularly foods children can eat and are easy to prepare.
The Food Basket has seen food insecurity increase by 30% this year, and that need has “really increased” in senior and keiki populations, she said.
“Summer months are a very tough time for a lot of families.”
Albert Scales, administrator of the DOE School Food Services Branch, said more than 125,000 lunches and 56,000 breakfasts were served statewide in 30 days of the program last summer.
“We are hoping to serve at least this number, if not more, since we have three additional sites this summer,” he said.
According to Scales, the SSO program has operated in Hawaii for more than 25 years, and is an extension of the National School Lunch Program, which runs during the regular school year.
The Food Services Branch creates the menus and establishes contracts with vendors, while schools order and create the food that will be served to students.
Parents should call their child’s school directly to find out specific times for SSO meal services.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.