Summer lunch program going hungry
by Beth Winegarner
March 27, 2008
San Francisco will dig into its own pockets this summer to provide healthy lunches and snacks for children who might not otherwise eat – even though federal reimbursements are supposed to cover the cost.
During the summer months, more than 100 children eat lunch each day at the Visitacion Valley Boys and Girls Club. Many of them wouldn’t otherwise get a midday meal, according to site manager Shalom Kimble.
“Their parents are low-income, and having to feed them that third meal was breaking them,” Kimble said. “When they’re fed, they have more stamina, there’s less fighting and they’re happier.”
The city’s Department of Children, Youth and Families serves more than 200,000 lunches each summer, plus year-round snacks, in recreation centers and programs throughout the city. To pay for those meals, the department receives a receives a $2.75 reimbursement per meal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to spokeswoman Jill Fox.
The USDA increases its school lunch reimbursement, which also goes to summer lunch programs like DCYF’s, to keep up with the cost of living, according to department spokeswoman Jean Daniel. It was $2.56 per meal in 2006, and $2.64 per meal in 2007.
“The law says that payments shall equal the full cost of food service operation, including obtaining, preparing and serving food,” Daniel said.
However, at San Francisco prices, that barely covers the cost of food, leaving a $141,028 shortfall, spokeswoman for the department. Kitchen staff with the San Francisco Unified School District prepare and serve the meals, and they have to be paid, Fox said.
The DCYF will compensate this year by pulling money from the Children’s Fund, a property-tax set-aside approved by voters in 1991 that guarantees money for city youth programs, Fox said. However, if the USDA’s reimbursement went farther, that money could be used for other initiatives, she added.
In order to qualify for the federal reimbursement, lunches must meet nutritional standards set by the USDA, which include low-fat, balanced meals rather than high-fat, sugar-laced foods, according to Fox.
“The cost of all commodities has gone sky-high in the past 18 months,” due to higher fuel prices and other factors, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the San Francisco Unified School district’s student nutrition and physical activity committee.
“San Francisco cafeteria workers are the highest paid in California, and probably the world, because it is expensive to live here — you can see why the meal program runs a deficit,” Woldow said.
This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.