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Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation, and neither does the Riverside Unified School District

Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) Nutrition Services Director, Rodney Taylor, knows the face of hunger in his community.  On a daily basis, Rodney’s team serve lunch to about 34,000 RUSD kids, 61 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price meals.  While the RUSD staff offer these students a fresh, healthy, nutritious meal during the school year, where do students eat during the summer?  In previous years, many students ate lunch at summer school.  However, steep budget cuts in 2008 and 2009 forced many school districts, including RUSD, to drastically reduce their summer school sites to only three schools, leaving about 25,000 kids without a place to eat.  Without the summer school program, where would those kids eat?  That is where the RUSD's summer barbeques come in.

Riverside kids enjoy a free summer BBQ

Rodney saw not only a need, but a challenge.  He wanted to make sure that the students previously enrolled in summer school still had access to a hot lunch.  But, he also wanted to take a different approach than the one used by the Parks and Recreation Department.  Inspired by summer barbeques hosted by San Diego Unified School District, and successful barbeque lunches that his staff had organized at RUSD schools, Rodney decided to get his staff behind the grill. Grant funds were used to buy the grills, pop-up shade tents and tables. RUSD hosted summer barbeques at eight parks throughout the city in 2010.  They grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, hot links, and rib-e-ques each day, so if you came every day of the week, you could always have something different.  Fresh veggies, fruit, chips and milk were served with each meal.

The summer barbeques at Riverside parks were a huge hit!  While the previous summer program, as operated by Riverside Parks and Recreation, had served about 32,000 meals at 10 sites in 2009, the summer barbeques operated by RUSD in 2010 served about 141,000 meals at eight sites. In 2009, about 35 to 40 kids showed up each day for a summer meal, with an average of about 680 meals per day.  Once the barbeques started in 2010, RUSD served an average of over 3,000 meals per day.  Rodney is dedicated to expanding the program even more—as he said, “what's the point of having [summer meal service] if you aren't going to serve everyone?”  In that spirit, Rodney is working to open more sites in 2011.

The Riverside summer BBQs were a big hit!

Stay tuned for the next posting to see how you can get involved.