From School Cafeteria to Summer Meals

Sam Duke
July 6, 2016
by Sam Duke

Our volunteer team likes to brag about my story. I first got involved with Feeding America San Diego (FASD) as a volunteer and eventually, when the opportunity arose, joined the team to lead volunteer projects full time.

But my passion for hunger relief and for speaking up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice started long before my work with FASD.

I served as the nutrition manager for the Escondido Union School District in the North County region of San Diego for 11 years. In this role, I saw how many kids were struggling with hunger. In fact, 97 percent of the kids I worked with qualified for free meals through the national school lunch program, and I knew from talking with kids that many of them would only have a snack from a convenience store at night.

I made it my goal to provide them with as many food resources as possible, whether through breakfast after the bell, supper for kids after school or other programs. At one point, I was responsible for providing 1,400 meals a day and did my best to provide healthy options, including incorporating new veggies on our “Wellness Wednesdays.” I’m proud to say we were the first school in San Diego County to offer food through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

But every June, as the school year came to a close, I wondered how the kids would eat over the summer and how parents would make up for the lack of food at school. I learned about the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and shared it with the families at our school.

The program, which takes place at schools, libraries and other community sites, provides nutritious meals and snacks for free to children under 18 years of age. The director of Escondido Child Nutrition Services, Gail Gousha, was a champion for kids struggling with hunger. She ensured our SFSP site provided full salad bars with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables because she knew families weren’t able to access affordable produce during summer months.

This June through August, FASD is sponsoring 10 SFSP sites and hosting Kids Community Pantries in each of the four regions of San Diego County. FASD also partners with other local non-profits and school districts to offer food and other resources at outdoor events and supports distribution partners who offer their own SFSP sites or increase their distributions during the summer.

Now, at FASD, I get to see behind the scenes of these programs and help others participate in hunger-relief by leading volunteer projects. My goal hasn’t changed, and I’m grateful to be a part of ensuring kids in our community will grow up healthy and strong through nutritious summer meals.

*Sam Duke is the volunteer coordinator at Feeding America San Diego. He served with the organization as a volunteer beginning in 2013, giving nearly 500 hours that year, and joined the team full time in 2014. This summer, Sam will be transitioning to a new role as programs coordinator, overseeing the organization’s kids and Mobile Pantry programs.


Tags: Hunger Heroes , Volunteer , California , Feeding America San Diego

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