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Phoenix school district rolls summer meal program into neighborhoods

Posted at 3:54 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 20:01:51-04

PHOENIX — School districts across Arizona are taking steps to make sure students who rely on free or reduced meals during the school year don't go hungry over summer break. However, trekking to campus in triple-digit heat can be tough, not to mention dangerous. So Phoenix's Creighton School District came up with a creative solution.

It is a sweltering afternoon as the big yellow bus pulls up to its first stop at Portland and 26th streets. The lunch rush is underway.

"They give a free meal for me because I'm pregnant," said Julissa Sotelo, who also has a toddler at home. "There's some people that live in a not really good neighborhood so we don't have the money to be buying it."

Nineteen-year-old Marcos Flores and his brothers depend on the bus daily.

"We would go hungry," Flores said, and they are far from alone.

"This summer we've already served about 60,000 meals," said Jay Mann, chief of business operations and development for the Creighton School District.

Mann says the heat and heavily-congested roads in the area were preventing some students from accessing food at their more traditional campus sites. So three years ago "Meals on a Bus" got rolling thanks to federal nutrition grants. Anyone in the community under 18 can eat breakfast and lunch for free. Adults pay just $1.00.

"We kind of take those barriers out of their way by taking the meals directly to them," said Mann.

The meals are not just about making sure families get fed. They are also about making sure students can do their best when they go back to class.

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"If students don't have that basic access to key resources like nutrition, that obviously has an impact on their learning as well," said Mann.

The program serves two meals at each of three different stops five days per week.

"It helps us a lot," said Marcia Rodriguez, who has three daughters. "It's important too because it's warm food for them."

"Meals on a Bus" runs through July 26. Click here to find other free meal programs near you.