Big jump in summer meals
LEONARDO MARTINEZ, 12, left, attacks his chicken fajita wrap while Brandon Moreno, 12, contemplates his lunch Wednesday.
Eleven-year-old Lizbet Ruiz found out this summer that she liked omelettes.
Ruiz is one of the many children who sometimes have breakfast and usually have lunch Monday through Friday in the community room at Springs Village on Vailetti Drive. The kids, who number between as few as 20 to as many as 40, are being fed again this summer by the Redwood Empire Food Bank. The Santa Rosa-based nonprofit has run the summer lunch program for eight years.
Ruiz doesn't go to the breakfast program, but likes the lunch program.
"It gives us different kinds of food that we don't get at home," she said. One of the new foods she tasted this summer was an omelette - and she decided she liked them.
Wednesday, the 20-plus kids at Springs Village lunched on a chicken fajita wrap, carrots, an orange, a small package of cookies and milk.
In addition to Springs Village, the program is also being hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley - and at 40 other sites around the county.
Itzul Gutierrez, the food bank's program coordinator, said the number of kids countywide taking advantage of the free breakfasts and lunches is up dramatically this year.
"Last year in June, we served 32,973 breakfasts and lunches," she said. "This June, we served 43,361 breakfasts and lunches."
Gutierrez attributes some of the increase to the economic downturn, some to the fact that parents have no jobs or don't have a stable job and also to the fact that summer schools have been shortened or eliminated entirely.
"It's a combination of all those things," she said.
Twelve-year-old Brandon Moreno, who lives in Springs Village, said he comes most days for lunch because, "they give us good food." His favorite this summer has also been the omelettes and sausage.
The summer breakfast and lunch program started the first week in June and most will end by the end of the first week in August - right before school starts again. The kids range in age from 1- to 18-years-old, but Gutierrez said a lot are in the kindergarten through third grade range.
The food is prepared in two kitchens in Santa Rosa - including the Santa Rosa City School District kitchen - and sent out to the sites daily.
The menu changes each day, but the food bank makes sure it's a well-rounded meal that includes some sort of main item such as a sandwich, and fresh fruit, a vegetable, dessert and milk.
"We also try to give them something they ordinarily wouldn't get at home," said Gutierrez. "One of the big hits was yogurt with fresh strawberries and granola. Some of the kids have never heard of yogurt, let alone eaten it."
The kids don't have to fill out any forms - they can just show up and eat. And it's free.
Prisila Ruiz, 9, was peeling her orange, and said she came in for lunch a couple of times a week. "I like the lunches," she said. "And I like the pizza." She added that she also enjoyed the eggs and sausage.
In addition to a meal, the kids also have an activity portion - and at the Springs Village, and 16 other sites, this year they're learning about gardening.
"Once a week, we have gardening education for them," Gutierrez said. "And there are other educational presentations as well, such as the Marin-Sonoma Mosquito Vector Control District.
And one day, people from Redwood Empire Disposal came out and talked about recycling in a kid-friendly manner."
Wednesday was gardening day. After lunch, the kids scattered and came back with the bean sprout in a plastic cup they planted a couple of weeks ago. The kids have also planted lettuce and have a couple of flower pots in front where they're growing some tomatoes, green onions and pinto beans.
Gabriel Sanchez Navarro, associate director with Nuestra Voz, the organization coordinating the program at Springs Village, said the kids are getting training for the Springs Community Garden, which is taking shape at Larson Park.