By Sarah Glenn
For the Journal
POCATELLO â€“â€“Â With the start of school just around the corner, Pocatello/Chubbuck District 25 has wrapped up the 14th year of its free summer lunch program.
According to district officials, the program fed more than 99,000 meals to area children over the 11 weeks it ran.
â€śWe just want to say thank you to the community for their awesome support,â€ť said Tom Wilson, Food Services Coordinator for District 25. â€śWe received a lot of great comments this year.â€ť
The number of meals served was lower this year than Wilson anticipated, even with the program adding an extra week onto its schedule.
â€śThere was some weather and other things that played a role in that,â€ť Wilson said.
While the quantity of meals did not hit expected targets, the quality of the afternoon exceeded Wilsonâ€™s expectations. Several community and church groups caught on to the popularity of the program and brought their own activities to the various parks where lunch was being served. The Pocatello Fire Department hosted outreach activities, a local Baptist church provided entertainment and the libraryâ€™s bookmobile made a few appearances.
â€śIn the community, this has really gained some momentum this year,â€ť Wilson said.
The Summer Food Service Program humbly began 14 years ago with two lunch ladies taking food over to Alameda Park in their cars.
â€śAfter three days of them getting bombarded, we taught them how to drive a truck,â€ť Wilson said.
Over the years, the free lunch program for kids has exploded into a wildly popular ritual for hundreds of local families. Last summer, the program served more than 90,000 meals throughout the course of the summer. In 2010, the number of meals served reached its peak at about 140,000. This year the district was aiming for 105,000 meals served, but fell about 6,000 short of that target.
The USDA program reimburses providers who serve healthy meals to children and teens ages 18 and under in low-income areas. The district carefully tracks how many meals are served because that is what determines the amount they are reimbursed for. According to the USDA programâ€™s website, the average reimbursement for lunch is $3.47 per meal. Parents could purchase a meal at one of the Pocatello sites for $3. Open sites must operate in low-income areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Congress appropriated $398 million for the program in 2012.
Wilson said he does not expect any major changes to the program next year.
â€śWe just want to build on the last 15 years and keep building and see if thereâ€™s any other improvements we can make,â€ť Wilson said.