- Associated Press - Saturday, June 30, 2018

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Helen Jandt rang a hand bell and yelled out to passersby at the Leeds Park site, “Are you going to eat with us?”

A young woman and two children walked by her on June 7, and onto a colorful bus that had pizza, lettuce salads, strawberry mango slush cups and milk cartons. By 11:12 a.m., there were a dozen children sitting in the Leeds shelter house enjoying the meals. By 11:20 a.m. the number ticked up to 20.

“It is great. It is a whole ton of food for these kids,” said Jenifer Davis, who had walked just a few blocks from 41st Street with an assemblage of six neighbor kids.

“It is nice for us, we just came down the street.”

Free summer lunches from the Sioux City School District have been present for several years for children age 1-18 at various sites, including 15 locations last year. Children don’t have to prove any income needs; the meals are available to anyone who wants them. This summer, the new element is a mobile food bus, festooned in bright colors and “Free Meals” noted at the top of one side. It parks in two city spots to bring outdoor meals to people.

The Sioux City Journal reports that the food truck began operation June 4, and will serve meals through July 27. Davis and Jandt said they want more people to know about the free food bus.

“I think (children) are less prone to go (eat) at school, but it is on the bus, so they want to go,” Davis said.

Jandt works with two other district food service employees in the bus, to go along with her yearlong work as a “lunch lady” at West High School. She said being in the city park with a splash pad of fun water options makes for a good stopping point.

Jandt said the biggest turnout of the first week came on the hot Tuesday, when many of the roughly 40 kids would go back and forth from the tables to the spouting water. As for the smaller turnout two days later, she chalked it up to the weather conditions and the infancy of the program.

“We are trying,” Jandt said. “If it started out sunny, I think we would have gotten a lot more kids coming out. Parents are holding back because of the rain.”

The bus has the same meal content as that given each summer day in the district. The bus goes to the northside Leeds Park from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m., to the downtown LaunchPAD Children’s Museum from noon to 12:45 p.m.

“We try to get them through as fast as we can,” Jandt said.

On Fridays the school food bus is amid the adjacent grouping of other mobile options, as the growing Food Truck Fridays in the city is in a new location. Now in its third year, Food Truck Fridays is being held from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Friday through Aug. 24, in the new Pearl Street Park at Seventh and Pearl streets.

Jandt pointed out that adults who want to eat the school meals can pay $4. She said the fare for the week included a Wednesday meal of popcorn chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, oranges and a beverage.

Meanwhile, the South Sioux City School District also continues to give free meals this summer. That takes place on weekdays from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at both the Cardinal Elementary and Middle School buildings.

The districts are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to aid families with food insecurity.

Over the past few years, between 1,300 and 1,400 children on average were served daily through the Sioux City School District summer program. That’s far below the roughly 9,300 students who qualify for free and reduced meals during the school year. School officials hope the mobile meals will increase the number of kids getting needed food.

“The bus is a great idea,” Davis said.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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