Free lunches available for community children at Waukegan summer schools; ‘We want them to have a seamless summer getting free nutritious, healthy meals’

Free lunches available for community children at Waukegan summer schools; ‘We want them to have a seamless summer getting free nutritious, healthy meals’

As summer school ended for the week earlier this month at Clearview Elementary School in Waukegan, most of the students headed into the cafeteria for lunch before boarding the buses taking them home 20 minutes later.

Students were munching on cheese pizza, corn and fruit, while sipping milk in a packed lunchroom as they socialized with friends.

“We’re talking about what we’re going to do this summer,” fourth grader Emely Estrada said.

Once the students finish lunch, members of the public with children between the ages of 3 and 18 can take advantage of the free lunch program. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

“I like it,” added Taiana Ecxford-Perez. “It is a nice way to end the day.”

Unlike the school year, where all Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 students receive free breakfast and lunch daily, lunch is open to community members between the ages of 3 and 18 at campuses holding summer school through July 1, when classes end.

Amanda Avalos brought her three children in for lunch, where the youngsters received the same meal as the students. She said she likes the opportunity to take her children out for lunch at the nearby school.

“We do this when we can,” Avalos said. “This is the first time this year. It’s good to be out with the kids.”

Avalos said she is familiar with the program because her fifth and seventh graders have partaken since they started school in Waukegan. It gives the youngsters some variety, and her some peace of mind.

“It’s helpful if they don’t get a chance to eat at home,” she said. “They have another opportunity.”

Maria Leon brought her children as well, including a first grader. She said the youngsters like the food and, “this is a good place to take them.”

A free lunch program is also available between noon and 1 p.m. weekdays at the Waukegan Public Library through Aug. 2. Library Executive Director Tiffany Verzani said the longstanding effort can replace what youngsters get throughout the school year.

Summer school students at Clearview Elementary School in Waukegan eat a free lunch at the end of the day. (Steve Sadin/For the Lake County News-Sun)

Alicia Williams, the district’s manager of transportation and child nutrition, said the summer meal plan is a continuation of the statewide Community Eligibility Program for districts with a large percentage of low-income families.

“We want them to have a seamless summer getting free nutritious, healthy meals,” she said. “It’s required by the Illinois State Board of Education.”

Each meal must contain milk, grain, fruit, a vegetable and either meat or the equivalent. Williams said the pizza, which the youngsters liked, provides both protein and grain at the same time.

She said the students get breakfast in the morning and take it to class to eat. There is no morning meal program for the public.

Along with nutrition, Carman-Buckner Elementary School Principal Robert Silva said there are numerous benefits beyond the food when the summer school students gather for lunch after class and before going home.

Silva said there are social-emotional gains as the students interact with each other, teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff in the lunchroom. Relationships are built which will carry into the coming school year.

“At the end of the day, they are all together in the lunchroom in a safe environment,” he said. “It’s an important piece of what they do as they build relationships with other students, teachers and paraprofessionals. They are building a sense of community.”

Along with giving the students a community environment as part of their summer school experience, Silva said providing the students free breakfast and lunch can make things easier on some of the families.

“The cost of food is going up,” he said. “A lot of parents worry about that.”

Verzani said the library’s free lunch program gives youngsters 18 and under the opportunity to do some reading while they have lunch. She said it helps families who may be struggling, and gives everyone a chance to read and eat in a safe environment.

“We know food security is an issue,” she said. “The library is already doing gardening. They can read while they eat, or stay (here) and read. We’re happy to be part of this and help make it happen.”

Summer school is conducted this year at the Washington campus of Waukegan High School, as well as at Miguel Juarez, John Lewis, Edith Smith and Robert Abbott middle schools. Along with Clearview and Carman-Buckner, elementary schools this year include Cooke Magnet, Glenwood, Little Fort, Lyon Magnet, Washington and Whittier. Robbie Lightfoot Early Learning Center also has summer school.

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