Arundel school buses turn into food trucks to deliver mobile meals to youngsters

About a dozen schoolchildren at the Willows Apartments in Glen Burnie queued up curbside as the Anne Arundel County school bus pulled up.

Some kids were flanked by parents and toddler siblings who appeared just as excited to see the bus; the moment had all the trappings of the first day of school.

But that's a few weeks away.

Instead, the bus had come with a mainstay for students in the area: healthy meals. School officials opened the rear of the bus and set up tables with some of the same food offered during the school year, feeding not only the schoolchildren but siblings who won't begin classes for a couple of years.

The Willows Apartments are among six communities in the Glen Burnie area that take part in Anne Arundel's summer Mobile Meals program, which began June 25 and runs through Aug. 14. The Mobile Meals bus makes deliveries each Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., officials said.

School officials said that five venues in the Meade area also take part in Mobile Meals, which serves children ages 2 to 18, focusing on areas where more than 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals. School officials said 45 facilities in the county serve summer meals as well.

Jodi Risse, Anne Arundel County public schools' supervisor for food and nutrition services, said the program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its Summer Food Service Program and has no income or registration requirements. Mobile Meals began in the Fort Meade area in 2012, and this summer marks the first time the meals are being served in Glen Burnie as well, she said.

"We really feel it's important for the school system to provide nutritious meals when school is out," said Risse. "The USDA has a program to do that and we cooperate with the school board and the agency to provide meals this summer."

"It's a good way to reach students where they are instead of having them come to us," Risse said.

Risse said last year, the school system served 6,848 mobile meals and 86,692 meals overall.

On Wednesday, youngsters feasted on cheeseburgers and grab-and-go snacks. Other items served included pizza, yogurt and turkey-and-cheese subs.

"I like when they give us pizza," said Diana Soriano of Glen Burnie, a rising sixth-grader at Hilltop Elementary. "It's right near our home, and the food is good."

Berta Soto Posadas, a rising eighth-grader at Glendale Middle School, said the meals vary but they're similar to what students receive at school. "They give us different things every day," she said. "They give us healthy choices of fruits and milk."

As it does at other venues, the school bus remained at the Willows Apartments for about 15 minutes, having served every student in line and a few latecomers. Then it loaded up and traveled a few blocks away to the Continental housing community in Glen Burnie.

About six children receiving meals were from nearby Joyce's Home Daycare. Owner Joyce Forrester said the program cuts down costs for parents.

"It also helps me, because it's one less meal I have to cook for the day," Forrester said.

Allan Cavin, a Continental resident who has two children, ages 3 and 5, said the program also serves as a community magnet.

"It brings all the kids in the neighborhood together, kids you don't know or have never seen," Cavin said. "It gets the community a chance to get familiar with each other."

Stacey Mazcko, a school system food nutrition services specialist, was among those helping to deliver the meals in the Glen Burnie area Wednesday.

"It's been a lot more positive than I thought, to be honest, and it's actually been more receptive by the community," Mazcko said. "Kids get really excited to get the school bus. They get excited to get meals. And you have a lot [of] older siblings bringing younger siblings."

Risse said the meals also give the school system the opportunity to teach families about healthy eating.

"As a school system, we love the opportunity to be able to start teaching and having our students learn about healthy eating and good nutrition at a young age," Risse said. "It's just one way to really start educating youngsters about proper eating and the value of healthy vegetables and whole grains, particularly with obesity prevalent in our society."

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