Tyler resident Jasmine Villegas has three children and looks after her sister’s five children this summer as well. All eight are younger than 12.
She’s grateful for the East Texas Food Bank’s Summer Food Program, she said.
“It’s a really good thing — I didn’t know what we were going to do the whole summer,” she said.
The program, which kicked off Tuesday, provides free nutritious breakfasts and lunches to children at 60 sites throughout East Texas. Since school is out, East Texas parents will look for places their kids can have fun and eat healthy meals.
Keamber Arps’ children — ages 9, 6 and 4 — have used the program since it started eight years ago.
“It’s nice to be able to bring them out to this — it helps to save food at home,” she said. “I like that it’s healthy. Everything I prepare isn’t always as healthy as this, so I’m glad it’s around. It gives them a chance to come out and be social, and they love the food.”
Many of the families, who take advantage of the program, are low-income and have children who get free breakfast and lunch at school, said Dennis Cullinane, executive director of the East Texas Food Bank.
“The East Texas Food Bank wants to ensure that the break from the classroom during the summer does not mean a break from what may be the most important source of nutritious meals: school breakfast and lunch programs,” he said. “Our Summer Food Program fills that gap and works to ensure that our kids receive the food they need during their summer break, and we try to keep it fun at the same time.”
The organization gets a federal government reimbursement for the meals that it serves, but any difference is covered by the food bank and local donations. About 140,000 meals are expected to be served through the program, Cullinane said.
The nonprofit has a partnership with the city of Tyler and other cities in East Texas through its Parks and Recreation Department.
“A healthy lunch is important to a healthy individual,” Mayor Barbara Bass said. “It’s a partnership we hope to continue.”