The school year may have ended, but hunger never takes a break.
San Jose is covering the food gap for low-income youth up to age 18 through the Summer Food Service Program, a federally-funded, state-administered program that allows the city to distribute meals. Outside of school, food insecurity is a harsh reality for low-income youth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than 200 million meals will be distributed throughout the country this summer because of the program.
In Silicon Valley, the need is significant due to the high cost of living. Nonprofits, food banks and churches in the region have seen food insecurity skyrocket since 2020. The demand continues to rise, especially with COVID-19 programs ending.
“I would say about 25-30% of families are impacted by food insecurity in San Jose,” Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy for Second Harvest Food Bank, told San José Spotlight. “A lot of families are suffering with the high food costs, high gas costs and with schools out they have lost that key source of nutrition. I think demand will still be very high.”
To fill the nutrition gap that exists for thousands of children during the summer, the city is distributing meals in two ways: through the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department and city libraries.
The parks department provides meals through its summer camp programs at seven different sites—a notable increase from previous years where it only served meals at four sites. It is only for students enrolled in Camp San Jose Jr. programs.
“We expect to distribute more than 30,000 meals,” said Ed Bautista, spokesman for the department. He added the increase in services reflects the increased need in the community.
In previous years, the city would distribute approximately 20,000 meals, but since the two-fold effect of inflation and the pandemic, three more sites have been added, he said.
“We could distribute even more meals than that,” Bautista said, noting there isn’t a limit on funding they receive for meals distributed over the summer. “In the month of June, some areas may get a spicy chicken or turkey and cheddar sandwich or wraps or sushi bowls. There’s also always options for those non-meat alternatives and for allergies.”
City libraries, on the other hand, distribute grab-and-go meals to any person ages 2-18, regardless of their income or enrollment in summer programs. The meals are distributed at the Educational Park Branch and Tully Library. Meals are distributed from 12-1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Any adult picking up the meals can also get a free meal, and youth do not need to be present for the adult to grab additional meals.
Bautista and Weatherby said the impact of the summer food program cannot be understated.
“One of the challenges is that families have to trade off the food budget because they’re trying to make $1 stretch really far and that doesn’t always allow for the best quality food,” Weatherby said. “It’s really a matter of the health of the community and and in some cases, families being able to continue to stay housed.”
Second Harvest Food Bank provides a location tracker for impacted families to find free meals in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties with more than 80 locations like libraries and community centers, but also local schools and parks. Families can also sign up for food delivery services or locate where to pick up free groceries.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Where to get a free meal in San Jose through the Summer Food Service Program
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Snack: 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Bascom Community Center—open until Aug. 12
1000 S. Bascom Ave.
Emma Prusch Farm Park—open to Aug. 19
647 S. King Rd.
Mayfair Community Center—open until Aug. 5
2039 Kammerer Ave.
Roosevelt Community Center—open until Aug. 5
901 East Santa Clara St.
Seven Trees Community Center—open until Aug. 5
3590 Cas Dr.
Welch Park Neighborhood Center—open until Aug. 5
Starbird Youth Center—open until Aug. 5
1050 Boynton Ave.