SIOUX CITY -- Riley Bibler, 12, was enjoying a pleasant lunch in the shade with her friend Zsuzsana Bourassa, 12.
Taking a break from a Verizon Innovation Learning Program for Girls in Tech summer camp held at Western Iowa Tech Community College, the two East Middle School seventh-graders were dining on cheesy breadsticks, marinara sauce, and a lettuce salad that came with ranch dressing.
Were Zsuzsana and Riley dining, al fresco, midday, at some high-class bistro? No, the two were taking advantage of the free meals offered by the Sioux City Community School District as part of its summer food service program.
Free breakfasts and lunches are available every weekday for kids age 1-18 at several schools and other locations between now and July 26. The program is a partnership between the school district, Sioux City Public Schools Foundation and Tyson Foods, among other sponsors.
According to Sioux City Public Schools Foundation executive director Kari Treinen, Tyson was such a big believer in the summer lunch program that the company helped to purchase, last year, a brightly designed school bus which serves as a mobile food truck that travels to a handful of Sioux City splash pad locations as well as the LaunchPad Children's Museum.
"Tyson was so pleased that they helped to purchase a second bus in order for food to be served at more locations," Treinen added.
Breakfast, lunch or both are served at more than two dozen locales, which include schools, churches and even the Hop-A-Lot Fun Center at the Southern Hills Mall.
"Summertime is such a critical time for families with children," Treinen explained. "Nearly 70 percent of Sioux City schoolkids qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch and may families rely on it. With kids home for summer, they may be missing out on nutritious hot meals."
Food service supervisor Rich Luze said the Sioux City School District has been offering breakfasts and lunches every summer for more than 20 years.
However, Sioux City is perhaps one of the few school districts in Iowa to offer food served in a rebuilt school bus.
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"We're trying to take away any trepidation people might have towards free lunches," Luze said. "Food trucks make food more accessible and fun."
Additionally, the summer menu meets the same dietary guidelines as food served during the school year.
Some of the lunches planned for this week include a pulled pork sandwich, cheeseburgers and mini tacos.
Even better, the free summers aren't limited to Sioux City school students, Luze said.
"We've served kids, 1-18, from across the country and from around the world," he added. "As long as you meet the age requirement, you're entitled to a meal."
Plus grownups aren't excluded. They can get a full meal for just $4.
As more and more children move through the lines at the repurposed buses and other sites, a cadre of lunch personnel have food service down to a science. They need to be at the top of their game since approximately 1,700 meals will be distributed.
"If you include breakfasts, we're distributing more than 2,100 meals," Luze said.
Thankfully, the summer food service has a fan in Riley Bibler.
"I don't know if they're giving us more food," she said, biting a bit of her Rice Krispies Treat dessert. "The portions just seem bigger."
Zsuzsana Bourassa is simply happy in the abundance of choices.
"For summer, they give you a choice between milk and juice," she said. "I recommend going with the juice every time."