By Cathi Douglas
Every summer for close to 10 years, the Capistrano Unified School District offers free meals to families in need.
There is substantial need: More than 2.7 million meals have been distributed from August 2020 to the present, says Kristin Hilleman, the district’s director of Food and Nutrition Services, with 41,596 meals dispersed last summer.
“The Summer Meal Program allows families to offset their food budget and use that money for other items, such as bills that need to be paid,” Hilleman says. “There are always people in need.”
Families can begin picking up a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches to go on Tuesdays from June 15 through July 27 at the Food and Nutrition Services Office from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and at two other sites, Las Flores Elementary School and Wood Canyon Elementary School, on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
- Food and Nutrition Services Office: 32972 Calle Perfecto, San Juan Capistrano
- Las Flores Elementary School: 25862 Antonio Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita
- Wood Canyon Elementary: 23431 Knollwood, Aliso Viejo
“This nutrition is important because some of the children don’t have access to healthy meals during the day,” says district nutrition specialist Shannon Illingworth. “We provide whole grains, proteins, veggies and fruits.”
Sample meals might include whole grain cereal, milk, and fruit for breakfast and make-your-own nachos with bean and cheese filling served with meat and enriched corn chips with apples, cherries, or oranges, Hilleman says. The foods are prepared in the district’s central kitchen with the help of longtime, dedicated classified employees.
Meals also will be available to students participating in on-campus school programs this summer, such as athletics or summer school.
“The neat thing is that we can feed anyone under 18 years old regardless of where they go to school,” she says.
The pandemic has leveled the playing field, as the stigma of participating in on-campus programs is erased, Hilleman says.
“All children can have these meals for free and there’s no designation of who’s who,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see.”