ESSEX WESTFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT — EWSD’s summer meals program officially opened its Maple Street Park location June 20.
At three total locations, EWSD is working to provide healthy meals to anyone who would like to have them. Parents or guardians can pick up the meals on behalf of their children at the park location, Albert D. Lawton school or Little One’s University.
Any child 18 years and younger can receive a meal. They do not need to reside in Essex or Westford or be enrolled in EWSD schools, according to a June 17 press release from the district.
“When it comes to these meal pick up sites, it’s not only for the people that need it, it’s for the whole community,” said Scott Fay, child nutritionist for EWSD. “If we saved it just for those that need it, we couldn’t be successful.”
The meals provided by EWSD are made at Essex High School the day before, with most ingredients supplemented from the Vermont Food Group, Fay said.
The program tried to create meals kids will like, such as build-your-own nachos or turkey and cheese lunch packs.
“The last thing I want to do is walk through the park and see food waste,” Fay said. “It’s just incredibly important that what we’re giving them are the things they want to eat.”
The program has existed for around 10 years, and when Fay first joined the program there was a lot of overproduction that resulted in leftovers being served that created general distrust from the community.
Since then, Fay said he’s worked hard to train his staff to be very diligent about leftovers and production.
“Once we figured that out, we started gaining a lot of traction and population and people being able to trust our menus and kids knowing their food is fresh every day,” Fay said.
Those who want to pick up the meals from the Maple Street park location can go to the concession stand by the pool and ask for a meal.
At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, two young boys and their father collected one of the first meals of the year. Both boys said they enjoyed all the aspects of the meal.
“I like how they add extra drinks because sometimes when you’re running around you get thirsty and stuff like this keeps you hydrated,” the twelve-year-old said.
Last year, the program gave away around 80,000 meals, Fay said. Though this was due to the waivers put in place by the USDA because of COVID-19, including area eligibility waivers that no longer limited where the program could distribute food.
Before COVID, the program estimated they gave away 30,000 meals, and this year they anticipate giving away 45,000-50,000 meals.
The program receives federal funding, which is based on participation, so the more people who take the free meals, the stronger the program becomes, Fay said.
“It's important to know these meals are not only for families in need and you won't be taking away a meal from someone in need,” he said. “By picking up the meals you'll be supporting your community.”