As nutrition director for the West Des Moines Community Schools, Willow Dye knows that for many students, the meals they receive at school may be the only food they have during the day.
And she knows that the Summer Food Service Program, which offers breakfast and lunch in several locations, fulfills the same function.
When she learned that more was needed she helped create a new Meals on the Move bus, converted from a small school bus, that brings food to apartment complexes in areas of the city that are too far to walk to a school for a meal between 10:40 a.m. and 1 p.m. At the three sites, about 80 meals are distributed each day, and the fourth is expected to bring in another 50 hungry children.
Starting June 28, the bus visits three regular sites — it is soon to add a fourth — to bring hot meals to families near where they live. As with the regular summer program, anyone 18 or under can have a meal for free, no questions asked, and adults can purchase breakfast for $2 and/or lunch for $3.75. Meals have to be consumed where they are distributed.
Dye demonstrates the need for the program by telling a story about a mother she helped at a food site — the woman was pushing many more children than the stroller was made for and walked a long way because the children were hungry.
“We have a hot entree of the day and hot vegetable of the day and then we always have turkey sandwiches and sunflower butter and jelly with string cheese or yogurt, and then we have assorted fruits and vegetables on the side,” she told the West Des Moines Guide in a telephone interview.
On Fridays children can take a backpack of fruits and nonperishable foods, many supplied by local churches, home with them so they will have something to eat over the weekend.
Along with the food come volunteers who eat and play with the children. Lunchtime activities can include coloring, playing jump rope, reading library books, being read to or just hanging out with friends.
“It’s also having some activities, you know, so it's not ‘I just came to get food because I'm hungry.’ It’s taking that stigma away: ‘I came to play, to fingerpaint, and I also got to have lunch,’” Dye said. “Tying it to an activity helps them not feel so shameful you know, like ‘I had to come here and get food because I'm poor,’ but ‘I came here to paint or color with my friends or play jump rope with my friends, and we got to have lunch.'
“So it's not just about the food.”