The Howard County Public School System served nearly 68,000 free lunches during its annual summer weekday meals program, a slight increase from last year.

A total of 67,753 lunches were served between the school system’s 15 locations, including school cafeterias, community areas and school parking lots.

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“We are of the view that [even though] we served 67,000 meals, the need is still there,” said Brian Ralph, director of food and nutrition services for the school system ”We are aiming at one point to serve up to the 75,000-to-80,000 range because we believe that’s where the need is.”

Last summer, the school system saw a spike in the number of meals served, jumping from nearly 51,000 in 2017 to more than 64,000.

This year the school system added nine sites to serve the daily lunches “in response to high demand and to support families with limited access to transportation,” according to the school system’s website.

For next year and beyond, the school system is going to push forward with more mobile sites, as opposed to school cafeterias, Ralph said.

This will have the school system “going out to the people instead of the people going to us,” he said.

Ralph also is looking to have a food truck drive around different communities next summer to provide a “meals on wheels” option.

The East Columbia Branch library was the most active mobile site, serving more than 5,000 meals during the two-month period. The North Laurel Community Center, a mobile site, and Oakland Mills Middle School’s cafeteria also received a lot of foot traffic.

This summer was the first year for the North Laurel Community Center meals site.

Over the next few weeks, Ralph will review how the entire summer meals program went to assess whether some site locations should be changed.

After running for eight weeks, the federally funded program ended on Aug. 16. County schools reopened Sept. 3.

“There is a need out there for meals, and we will try to satisfy that need in conjunction with our partners in Howard County,” Ralph said.

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