Free meals for kids means more volunteers, more donations needed

Summer Meals volunteers

With the Central Texas Food Bank preparing an additional 4,000 fresh, packaged meals for kids this summer — every day — it needs more volunteers and donors to meet the demand. Between June 3 and August 16, the summer meals program will offer free meals and snacks to anyone under 18 at 90 sites across Central Texas. The program targets those students who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year.

Though the program will distribute more than 160,000 meals total, including breakfast, lunch, and snacks, 4,000 of those meals will be prepped, cooked, and packaged in the food bank’s 4,200-square-foot kitchen, says CEO Derrick Chubbs. “When we do it this way, we have more control over the nutritional content. Our goal is to have 50 percent of what we distributed be fresh produce because community health is part of our strategic plan. We don’t want to serve you a meal that’s not healthy.”

Across the country, hunger for families spikes over the summer for a number of reasons, including increased utility bills and the need to pay for summer child care. For those families whose children qualify for free or reduced lunch at school, the lack of those meals means their kids can go hungry. The food bank says 1 in 5 Central Texas kids are at risk of hunger. The food bank partners with the Texas Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program to provide the meals.

In Central Texas, the food bank will distribute the meals at 90 sites, including City of Austin recreation center, YMCA locations, public housing sites, and public health sites. The meals are available not just to campers and residents at those sites, but also to any child under 18 who walks in. Stephanie Martinez, site supervisor at Metz Recreation Center near Cesar Chavez St and Pleasant Valley Rd, says her team attended food bank training and now promotes the program on site with banners and signs, sometimes even carrying the meals out to kids at the facility.

“Some people already know about it but there’s a lot of new faces in the community nowadays, so we make sure they know we have free food for the kids,” she said. Though kids are notoriously picky eaters, the majority of them eat whatever is served, she said, adding, “They have their favorites like the little lunches with cheese and crackers, fruit, and milk.”

While the food bank employs staff to cook the meals, volunteers can help prep and package food, said Chubbs. “They’re going to be doing things like cut onions and peel potatoes or open boxes and take food out.” More than 4,000 extra volunteers are needed this summer and most opportunities are three-hour shifts during the day.

In addition to the volunteers, Central Texas Food Bank is making a special donation appeal to fund the meals. The food bank says a one-dollar donation can be used to purchase eight meals this summer, thanks to other donors who are matching donations. (You can donate here.)

Families who need to locate a site for the free meals can visit the Central Texas Food Bank’s website or, call 2-1-1 for information, or text the word FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877 to find locations using their mobile device.

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