Students who stop by the Danville Public Schools food truck on Wednesday can get chicken wings, french fries, and a cup of strawberries.
Throughout the rest of the summer, they’ll be able to get a fresh-cooked meal every weekday — and each time the meal will be free.
The summer lunch initiative is the latest by the Danville Public Schools district in Danville, Virginia, to ensure all students get enough food to eat. The food truck rotates between three different locations and serves more than 1,000 meals a week, highlighting the need among families for nutritious meals outside the school calendar.
“The food truck popularity across the nation is growing every year,” Phillip Gardner, director of child nutrition at Danville Public Schools, which includes roughly 6,400 students, told Global Citizen. “Why not take the popularity of a food truck and bring it to childhood nutrition and liven it up and think outside the box?
For the past six years, Danville Public Schools has provided free summer meals in three different school locations, reaching thousands of hungry students. Gardner said that more than 32,000 meals were served in 2018 alone.
“A lot of our kids may not get the nutritional meals they need during the summer that they get during the school year,” he said.
“Now a kid is going to tell his friend, ‘Hey, let’s go to the food truck,’” he added.
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The school district also provides free breakfast, lunch, and snacks throughout the school year as part of a joint funding program by the US Department of Agriculture and Virginia Public Schools through the organization No Kid Hungry.
While school cafeterias throughout other parts of the country have become heated sites of inequality, with students being denied lunch and shamed for not paying lunch debts, Danville is going in the opposite direction by making sure all kids have enough to eat.
Hunger throughout the US is a chronic problem, with an estimated 41 million people regularly going hungry, including more than 12 million children. Around 22 million students, meanwhile, receive free or reduced lunch at school.
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Without a nutritious diet, kids struggle to pay attention, stay awake, and retain information during class. If hunger is experienced day after day, a child’s grades will suffer and they’ll likely be unable to reach their full potential later in life.
Hunger often peaks in the summer because many low-income children are left alone while their parents work, and are unable to get a healthy lunch as a result.
Other school districts offer free summer lunches as part of No Kid Hungry and food trucks are becoming a common tool in the fight against child hunger.
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Gardner said that nutrition directors from other states have visited Danville to learn about its efforts to fight hunger.
“They’ve come out and looked at our model just to see what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Food Truck menu for the month of June. Students eat free! Non-students eat for $3.65! pic.twitter.com/6ORG89QMdH— Danville VA Schools (@DanvilleVASch) June 4, 2019