Parents in Los Lunas are having to drive a little farther this summer to find a free meal for their children. Many have found their way to Belen to take advantage of its summer lunch program.

As of July 1, the Los Lunas summer lunch program, sponsored and administrated by the Los Lunas School District, stopped serving meals.

“We have seen an increase in the number of meals we are serving since Los Lunas closed its program,” said Lorraine Silva, the Belen School District’s director of food services. “During the week ending July 12, we served 524 more meals than the week ending July 2.”

During the last week of June, Belen served 1,017 breakfasts and 7,393 lunches, with seconds given to 29 youngsters at breakfast and 93 at lunch. Last week, July 8-12, 1,224 breakfasts and 7,919 lunches were served, with seconds given to 17 children at breakfast and 236 at lunch.

The increase has been mainly at Dennis Chavez Elementary, Anna Becker Park in Belen, the Tomé-Adelino Fire Station and Timan Park in Rio Communities, according to Silva.

“Kids are kids, the program has no restrictions as to where the children live. If they show up at our serving site, we give them a meal,” she said.

Summer lunches are offered through a federally funded program that provides for all of the food and employee costs. Around New Mexico, 59 sponsors provide the program in various towns and serve an average of 196,669 meals a day.

In Valencia County, the Belen and Los Lunas school districts and St. Mary’s Catholic School sponsor the programs. Meals are free to children age 1 to 18; adults must pay $2.25. Each served meals at various sites around the county.

During the first 23 days of the program, Belen served 3,058 breakfasts and 20,651 lunches as well as giving 89 breakfast seconds and 617 seconds at lunch.

Meanwhile in Los Lunas, 7,365 breakfasts and 26,208 lunches, as well as 61 breakfast seconds and 159 seconds at lunch were served during 20 days in June. Los Lunas did not serve meals on Fridays.

“We feed the children who may not get a meal otherwise. I’d prefer to have the program open,” said Ann Garcia, director of food services for Los Lunas Schools.”We feel bad about not serving lunches in July, but it’s not cost effective to keep the kitchens open.”

“Historically, on a daily average, we drop from 1,638 lunches to 950 after summer school closes. We would of had to close two or three of the sites in July; there just wasn’t enough participation.”

The Los Lunas Schools chose not to carry the summer breakfast and lunch program into July because, according to Deputy Superintendent Bill Moffatt, there aren’t enough employees to supervise the program.

Moffatt said the district publicized the July meal program cut-off throughout the month of June.

“We’re expected to supervise it. However, our custodians and principals need some time off. By doing the summer lunch program in June, we have no problem because of summer school. In July, it becomes more difficult. We have a real limited staff,” Moffatt said.

“If we don’t supervise it, someone can slip and fall. There are liability issues.”

And there were other problems, he said. “At DVI (Desert View Intermediate School), we had two incidents last year where lawn equipment was taken as people walked out, and two microscopes were gone.”

Instead of having the district’s cafeterias preparing meals for the summer lunch program, the staff is preparing the kitchens for the upcoming school year.

“We have to have schools ready for kids on Aug. 13. That means we need to shut down in order to do maintenance,” Moffatt said.

“My warehousemen are able to go into kitchens, strip floors, paint and do repairs we can’t get done during the month of July. We usually don’t have much time before school starts,” Garcia said. “They can’t do that if we are cooking and having to keep the area clean.”

Meanwhile, at the Los Lunas village summer recreation program, the kids are having to provide their own sack lunches. Before the summer lunch program ended at the beginning of July, approximately 300 kids received meals, including a sandwich, chips and fruit, provided by the school district.

Moffatt said the school district is still helping the kids by monetarily supporting the recreation program. “The county quit supporting the program, so we increased our contribution to the village to $9,000 for the program,” he said.

During the summer, participants of the recreation program at Daniel Fernandez Park go swimming, bowling and take trips to Cliff’s in Albuquerque.

Moffatt said the district continues to support the children who attend the Los Lunas Schools.

“We have to keep in mind our prime mission — to support kids during school time. The bottom line is we’re sorry we can’t be everything to everyone. We try.”

“Maybe next year we can try to work it out with the county and the village and see if we can offer it in their facilties.”

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Jane Moorman