By Mike Cisneros
Thanks to a recent USDA announcement, the Capistrano Unified School District is now eligible to provide free meals to all children 18 years and younger.
That means any children ages 18 and younger – regardless if they are a student or live within CUSD’s boundaries – can receive a grab-and-go meal during the district’s distribution days on Mondays and Wednesdays at 16 select sites.
“Our department mission is enhancing education through nutrition,” said Kristin Hilleman, Director of Food & Nutrition at Capistrano Unified. “Knowing we now have the ability to provide free meals for all children in our community is exciting. It relieves the burden for a lot of parents and grandparents and ensures our children have consistent access to food.”
Prior to Sept. 2, only CUSD students were eligible to receive meals and had to fill out order forms online. Some students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Now, any child can pick up a meal from any of the select distribution sites for free, no other information needed.
The USDA granted a waiver extension to provide free meals for all districts nationwide that it originally allowed in March when schools were closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The waiver continued into the summer but expired when a new school year began.
Now the extended waiver gives Capistrano Unified the ability to provide free meals until Dec. 31.
During the period when schools were closed from March to June, the district distributed over 300,000 free meals, with five breakfasts and five lunches weekly.
Whether due to confusion over eligibility, transportation problems, or just anxiety from the pandemic, Hilleman said meal counts have been down not just at Capistrano Unified, but all over the country.
“People’s lives have changed drastically in the last six months,” she said.
Hilleman said the Food & Nutrition Services staff are just passionate about serving healthy and delicious meals to all kids who need them.
“Because the USDA allowed us to extend those waivers, we’re able to provide free meals and we’ll continue to do so until told otherwise,” she said.
Meals are served every Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at these 16 sites:
• Aliso Niguel High School: 28000 Wolverine Way, Aliso Viejo
• Capistrano Valley High School: 26301 Via Escolar, Mission Viejo
• Dana Hills High School: 33333 Golden Lantern, Dana Point
• San Clemente High School: 700 Avenida Pico, San Clemente
• Arroyo Vista Middle School: 23371 Arroyo Vista, Rancho Santa Margarita
• Carl Hankey K-8: 27252 Nubles, Mission Viejo
• Esencia K-8: 5 Aprender, Ladera Ranch
• Don Juan Avila Middle School: 26278 Wood Canyon Dr, Aliso Viejo
• Ladera Ranch Middle School: 29551 Sienna Pkwy, Ladera Ranch
• Las Flores Middle School: 25862 Antonio Parkway, Las Flores
• Marco Forster Middle School: 25601 Camino Del Avion, San Juan Capistrano
• Newhart Middle School: 25001 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo
• Niguel Hills Middle School: 29070 Shark Bay, Laguna Niguel
• Hidden Hills Elementary: 25142 Hidden Hills Road, Laguna Niguel
• Las Palmas Elementary: 1101 Calle Puente, San Clemente
• San Juan Elementary: 31642 El Camino Real, San Juan Capistrano
For more information, call 949-234-9509 or visit capistrano.healtheliving.net.