A dozen smiling youngsters boarded the school bus that rolled into the parking lot of Vero Beach, FL’s, South County Park. But the bus was not there to take the children to school. The repurposed bus is one of two mobile cafeterias that visit children where they live and play.
Every weekday this summer, the buses bearing “KIDS EAT FREE” signs on the window and modified to have cafe-style benches and tables inside, travel across the county delivering lunches to children who might otherwise go without.
The free lunch is part of the Indian River County School District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s approved summer meal program, which uses schools and community centers to offer free breakfast and lunches to any child 18 and younger with no preregistration or paperwork required. This year, to reach families who don’t have transportation to get to schools or other sites serving summer meals, two buses were added to ease the stress of struggling parents and children who worry about getting a nutritional meal during the week.
The program began June 8, and so far the district has been serving an average of 275 children in the north community and an average of 225 children in the south community. These numbers are increasing everyday! The program’s two buses, that were set to decommission, were repaired to follow state guidelines and retrofitted with benches and tables at $22,528 per bus. Only one bus was planned, but an anonymous community member donated funds to add the second bus.
Staff serve prepackaged, cold lunches from coolers that include a choice of regular or chocolate milk, vegetable, fruit or juice item, one serving of grain, and one serving of protein.