Kids can get a slice of pizza along with fresh vegetables and tater tots at The Eatery, part of the Burnet school district’s summer lunch program. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — Though summer came for Burnet school kids more a couple of weeks ago, the R.J. Richey Elementary School kitchen buzzes with activity. Pamela Holcomb, Burnet Consolidated Independent School District food services director, and Heather Tepe, R.J. Richey cafeteria manager, are turning out lunches for kids taking advantage of the summer food program.
“It’s a lot different during the summer,” Holcomb said about the free lunch program.
Tepe agreed, “A lot different.”
First off, the number of kids served dropped from several hundred to several. But Holcomb and Tepe hope the summer lunch program grows, even to the point of calling in another cafeteria staff member.
The big difference at the R.J. Richey lunch site is the setup. Instead of a school cafeteria, Holcomb and Tepe created The Eatery.
“We’re trying to do a restaurant style,” Holcomb said. “We want the kids to come and play, and we’ll bring their food out to them, just like a restaurant.”
Even ordering the food resembles a restaurant as kids (and parents for a minimal cost) place their orders at a window at the back of the kitchen. The food service staff created a menu of six entrees, several vegetables and fruits, and a drink.
“They have a choice,” Holcomb said. “It’s not like they come in and only have one entree or a few things to chose from. We really wanted to create more of a restaurant atmosphere.”
While schools are out for summer, Marble Falls and Burnet school district officials know there is a need to provide lunch — and, in some cases, breakfasts — for children. The districts offer free meals throughout much of the summer at several campuses and sites.
This year, Burnet County Hunger Alliance joined the effort and expanded the program into other parts of the communities. (See the list below for locations and times.)
This year, along with regular lunch sites at R.J. Richey and the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes-Burnet Unit, the Burnet food service program is reaching into Hoover’s Valley with lunches at the Hoover Valley Volunteer Fire Department and LACare, a local food pantry.
In the Marble Falls school district, along with sites at three school campuses and the Boys & Girls Club of the Highland Lakes-Marble Falls unit, lunches are being served at Alta Vista Apartments, First Baptist Church of Granite Shoals, and Grace United Methodist Church in Granite Shoals.
“We know, during the summer, kids can’t always make it into the schools, so we’re trying to find ways to get out to them as much as we can,” Holcomb said.
In Burnet, alliance volunteers will help deliver meals to LACare and the Hoover Valley VFD.
When school is in session, kids can get at least two meals a day during the week. When school is out, though, some children might not know from where their next meal is coming. The summer food program was developed to help ensure kids can still get a good meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture helps fund the summer food programs but leaves most of the management up to local schools.
The summer program is open to all kids, at no charge. Parents and adults can eat at a minimal cost.
Holcomb and her staff came up with The Eatery concept to create a fun experience for the kids. When they come in, they grab a menu and choose from among a cheeseburger, a hamburger, a slice of pizza, a chicken sandwich, cheese sticks, or a chef salad for the main course. Then, they select up to two vegetables, including tater tots, as sides.
Tepe prepares the meals as each order comes in. The meals go into a basket lined with paper, just like you’d find at many restaurants. Then, she delivers it to the kids and parents outside the school building on the playground. If it gets too hot, there are several tables set up inside.
“We just wanted to do something different, make it fun,” Holcomb said. “We want kids to come, try it out. For parents, it’s a great thing, I think, because it’s a free meal for the kids, and it’s a pretty good one.”
Now, who doesn’t want to take advantage of that?
The summer lunch/breakfast program is available to all children ages 18 and younger at no cost. Kids just have to show up at a participating program site. Go to summerfood.org to locate one or for more information.