Summer lunch program under fire after being cut short

Published: Jul. 6, 2016 at 8:51 AM MST|Updated: Jul. 6, 2016 at 1:57 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Tucson mom is calling for change after a summer lunch program was shut down early due to a lack of kids.

Marty Birdman Center near Gr ant Road and Stone Avenue is just one of several sites that lost its breakfast and lunch service this summer.

Nutritious meals are provided to children while school is out of session for free by the Tucson Unified School District, but require at least 50 kids be served per location to keep the federally-funded program running.

The program fell short of that.

The city began transferring extra food to the smaller sites from the bigger sites, but TUSD put a stop to that too.

Felicia Chew contacted Tucson News Now after her son's summer camp lost its food service.

"It's just kind of frustrating to know that the lunches and breakfasts are available, but because of this technicality, they're not able to serve the kids," Chew said.

According to The Arizona Department of Education (ADE), the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is mandated and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The ADE is the state agency charged with administering the SFSP in Arizona.

The ADE enters into contracts with School Food Authorities (SFA's), governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations to administer the program at the local level.

ADE officials said TUSD has a central kitchen where meals are sent out, and must maintain control of the food that is served to ensure they adhere to food safety rules.

By choosing to disburse extra food from bigger sites to smaller sites in the area, TUSD no longer had control of the food, thus risking their license to operate and cater.

"The ADE realizes these policies sometimes put a strain on the members of the community and will do everything it can to help connect those folks to other resources. We will plan to speak with Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to see if a solution can be made for future services," an ADE spokesperson said.

But Chew said this summer, kids might not be getting the healthy food they need.

"Without this program, we're not sure that our kids are going to be having good nutrition and as an educator, I know too then that affects their ability to grow, their ability to learn – it's just a real shame," Chew said.

An ADE spokesperson said if Parks and Recreation facilities wish to serve more locations, ADE would assist the facility to apply to be a sponsor next year.

Chew is hoping changes are made for next summer.

"I'm hoping for in the future they would make some changes and realize just because you don't have the 50 kids at one site…if we can't bring 30-70 kids over to one site, then it just doesn't make sense that we can't bring the lunches and the breakfasts over to the kids," Chew said.

Tucson News Now reached out to TUSD for comment, and received this statement from their Food Services.

Snack services have been provided to the Marty Birdman Center (this includes items like fruit cups).

The Center has also been offered the option to pick up meals at the Tucson Unified Central Kitchen.

The district provides summer meals at more than 15 community sites in addition to dozens of our school sites. While doing this, we must follow all state and Federal guidelines to remain compliant and ensure the program can continue for years to come.

Click here for remaining sites still open for the Summer Lunch Program:

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.