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Free lunches offered for anyone under 18 in Lodi

Great summer program, or waste of taxpayer money?

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Posted: Friday, July 9, 2010 9:16 pm | Updated: 5:51 am, Mon Jul 12, 2010.

If you're 18 or younger, you can pick up a free lunch in Lodi, regardless of your family's income. Typically reserved for those who receive free and reduced price lunch during the school year, these government-funded summer meal programs are open to all under 18.

That's applauded by advocates for youths and the needy, but raises ire among taxpayers.

"There's no such thing as a free lunch, unless it's at the expense of taxpayers. Even if it's just happening in one district, it's one too many," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association.

"We're going into additional national debt, and we're giving way free meals to people within their means. It's just absolute lunacy," he said.

Statewide, $14 million in federal funds goes toward the summer meals programs per year, according to Phyllis Bramson-Paul, director of the state office of education's nutrition services division. Local figures were unavailable.

While the USDA program is geared toward students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch during the school year, anyone can bring their child for a free meal in the summertime. If the site provides meals in the area of a schoolor child-based organization where at least 50 percent qualify, then every child coming to that site can get a meal for free, according to state officials.

The taxpayer-funded program reimburses agencies for providing nutritious meals while school is not in session.

With the help of cities and civic groups, state officials have set up alternative food programs that have helped buffer the loss of meals typically provided during summer school. Lodi Unified School District canceled summer school this year to save money, so the district teamed up with the city of Lodi Parks and Recreation Department to serve meals at Hale Park and Washington School.

Since the neighborhoods where the sites are located are of lower-income, it was open to all students under the age of 18 who live in the area. It fed about 200 students a day during its one-month duration, according the district's food services program. It ended July 2.

The Lodi Boys and Girls Club and local Head Start organization have partnered for a similar program that will run through the end of the month. They have been serving between 70 and 80 meals each day since mid-June, according to Wiqar Shah, who oversees the program available to anyone under the age of 18.

"Sometimes we get students who just run in and grab lunch and go," he said, adding that not all of the participants attend Boys and Girls Club programs.

The organization has worked with HeadStart program for the past three years. That organization is reimbursed by the federal government.

"The parents are just happy that they don't have to worry about getting them lunch. Most of our children are low-income, so they don't always get meals, and the parents love (the free lunches)," Shah said.

'Not free money'

Joe Baxter, of Lodi, takes issue with his taxes paying for free meals for people just because the money is there.

He walked past Washington School each morning and started to wonder why people were being served fresh fruit and corn dogs free of charge. When he asked, he was told it wasn't from Lodi Unified funding, but grant money.

"Grant money is not free money. Government money comes from your back pocket," he said, adding that he's never taken handouts.

"There are programs for people who are needy, and I've never been against a program for people who are hungry. I'm definitely against programs 'just because,' or for those who have learned to milk the system," he said.

In 2008-09, California served a record 794.3 million meals during the school year — 23.7 million more than the year before.

But that number typically drops during the summer, despite the availability at more sites each year.

"I don't think anybody wants to have their taxes raised to pay for lunch for a middle-class child," Vosburgh said. "If it's a program to help, there needs to be a means of testing. If it's families that are out of work and can't afford food, that's a different discussion."

He said he was flabbergasted and did some research, only to find that the program is available for all children during the summer.

In Lodi, the meals served by the school district in conjunction with the city were prepared at Millswood Middle School and transported, pre-packaged, to the sites. A paid district employee oversaw the food safety aspect of distribution while parks and recreation volunteers helped watch over the children.

"When you're talking a free lunch for anyone, people should be allowed to keep their taxes and make their own lunch," Vosburgh said. "It's costing real people real dollars to pay for this program."

Sarah Hersh, communications director for Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said it is important during these tough economic times to make sure that the children of families who are struggling have access to nutritious meals.

"However, the congressman wants to ensure that our resources are used effectively. Programs should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the taxpayers' money is used wisely. He encourages any abuses of the system to be brought to his attention and these will not be tolerated," Hersh said.

Galt children, too, received both breakfast and lunch at Marengo Ranch Elementary School through the end of June. It was open to anyone under the age of 18. The district served about 125 breakfasts and 150 lunches per day, according to Superintendent Karen Schauer.

The program was sponsored by the State Migrant Education program and coordinated with the district's extended year special education program located at this school site.

"These programs provide summer support for school district students who may have challenges with nutritious meals due to economic challenges," Schauer said, adding that approximately 60 percent of the district's students receive free or reduced lunches during the school year.

$357 million allocated

Meals must follow a specified meal plan that includes milk, fruits, vegetables or juice; grain products such as cereal or muffins; and meat or a meat alternative. To be reimbursed for their expenses, sponsoring programs must follow a regimented USDA menu.

The program was first created as part of a larger pilot program in 1968 and became a separate program in 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees it.

In larger cities, there are dozens of sites. Last year, for example, the San Diego Unified School District's free summer lunch program served 250,000 meals. Five years earlier, when the program started, there were only 17,000 meals served.

Twenty-three of the more than 50 lunch locations this year in San Diego are in city parks. Last year, each park hosted a barbecue where parents could eat with their kids for $2 per adult.

Like Vosburgh, Baxter doesn't begrudge those who are needy, but takes issue with feeding all children just because the money is available.

"If people are hungry, feed them. Don't feed them 'just because,'" he said. "These programs are what got us into the mess we're into, this sense of entitlement. When I was raising a family, I worked two, sometimes three jobs, just to make ends meet."

How to get free lunch

The Lodi Boys and Girls Club, 275 E. Poplar St., will offer free lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the end of July. It is sponsored by the Head Start Child Development Council and open to anyone 18 or younger.

For a complete list of sites in San Joaquin County, visit www.cde.ca.gov/ ds/sh/sn/sfs201039.asp.

— News-Sentinel staff.

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  • Marcia Pothast posted at 10:34 pm on Thu, Jul 15, 2010.

    Marcia Pothast Posts: 11

    My main issue with this is that we are constantly bombarded with information telling us that the number 1 health problem among children is excess weight. Just how is this helping solve the problem?

  • Teri Smith posted at 9:59 am on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Teri Smith Posts: 8

    For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
    Scott, I think we should go back to this 100%. Take away ALL GOVERNMENT AID, FOOD STAMP< WELFARE, UNEMPLOYMENT, and leave everyone to find someone in their neighborhood or town to willingly provide them with what they need, on a charitable basis. I would gladly donate and buy food and clothing for needy children with my tax money if I had it back. I guarantee if it was given back to the people to provide for their families and that of their friends and neighbors, and there was not other source for this charity, there would be very little fraud, or theft. If we were allowed to defend our families and property be whatever means necessary, and choose who we helped and when in stead of being forced to hand over our money to an entity who doesnt even ask us what we want done with that money, but chooses for us...there would not be a LEGAL citizen in my town that went hungry...guaranteed.

    "I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

  • Teri Smith posted at 9:48 am on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Teri Smith Posts: 8

    Parents are choosing to spend their welfare money and ebt cards at Indian Casinos, adult beverages, cigarettes, and tattoos. It always amazes me the beautiful artwork of tattoos covering the bodies of these young girls with their ebt cards and food stamps, not to mention their coach and Gucci purses and expensive shoes. While I am shopping at Marshall's, Ross and Target for mine and my kids clothes and shoes because of the governments redistribution of my hard earned dollars to these people. It is to the point that I don’t even want any more raises, because it just costs me more money. At tax time I have to pay, in addition to the 17% withholdings weekly from my paychecks. I drive a 7 year old car with stock stereo, tires and rims, because my "extra" money went to pay for someone else’s rent and grocery bills so they can spend their money on fancy cars with fancy tires and rims and loud stereos, tattoos and piercings and expensive name brand clothes...none of which I can afford. My husband and I both work out of the home 40+ hours per week, trying to pay for a house that has 50% negative equity and a ridiculous house payment that they wont adjust for us because we make too much money. But, the government has already set a presidence of what it "too much money" and tax the overage in the form of taxes from us. We worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to get better paying jobs with good benefits...so that we can feed all the kids in Lodi School District, and now, if I want to keep my job, I also have to pay for my kids and all the documented and undocumented immigrants and welfare case kids in our county to ride the bus to school every day. Where does this end? It is true, that communism is great, until you run out of other peoples money...unless you live in USA, then they don’t even stop when that happens, and that is what you call "a budget deficit" when you spend more than the people contribute...and you don’t stop, you just keep spending it...

  • Teri Smith posted at 9:48 am on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Teri Smith Posts: 8

    Our government already has multiple redistributions of wealth in place to help people who are out of work, or cannot afford their groceries. They are just to name a few: welfare, ebt, food stamps, unemployment, and BIG tax returns for filers who never even paid taxes...just to name a few. These children are not gong to starve because their parents don’t have the means to provide for them. And if they are, then they should be taken away from their parents.

  • Teri Smith posted at 9:48 am on Wed, Jul 14, 2010.

    Teri Smith Posts: 8

    its just Obama money, right? When he runs out he can just print more...right?

  • roy bitz posted at 7:18 pm on Mon, Jul 12, 2010.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    Good comments here. Hopefully LNS will keep this item open for a while longer so others can comment on it.

  • Jim Hanson posted at 2:20 pm on Mon, Jul 12, 2010.

    Jim Hanson Posts: 27

    This is just CRAZY!!!! This is exactly why we are in this financial mess. All these political "do gooders" who are trying to play Jesus and save us all from ourselves forget about the financial impact of there high and mighty programs.

    Scott - It's great that you've found God but please let's understand that there is a difference between Charity and Socialism. Charitable service and donations is what this program needs to be funded with. Not a shakedown of Tax-payers money. The way this country is moving I would be surprised if there was a need for Charitable organizations in the future. The mighty politicians will be taking care of all of our needs in the future..... SCARY!!!!!!!!!

  • Robert Molle posted at 9:41 am on Mon, Jul 12, 2010.

    Robert Molle Posts: 42

    If the kids were in summer school getting a free lunch i would say great, better to have them getting more study time than out causing trouble but there not even having summer school this year. Kind of a waste of money to me. Why not use some of that money to get the 400 teachers that got pink slips back?

  • roy bitz posted at 1:31 pm on Sun, Jul 11, 2010.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    Agreed Scott. We should do the right thing---feed the hungry.
    As I said, I think an effort should be made to MINIMIZE abuse and to keep less than needy folks from "taking" from needy. That way more needy can be served.
    This article advertises the fact that EVERY child will get free lunch. That's different!
    I do not want my "feed the poor" tax dollars going to folks who are not needy.
    I strongly believe we need to reign in government spending. We need to change the attitude of "get the money and spend it before some other agency does". I think this program is a small but good example of this attitude.

  • Scott Trotter posted at 10:44 am on Sun, Jul 11, 2010.

    Scott Trotter Posts: 16

    Come on people, you have a problem with feeding hungry children? I'm not even a religious guy, but I remember from Matthew,

    For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
    I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

    Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

    The bottom line is, you feed people because you can. If someone who doesn't need it gets in line, well, that's part of the price you pay for doing the right thing.

  • roy bitz posted at 9:58 am on Sun, Jul 11, 2010.

    roy bitz Posts: 489

    By providing free meals to children who are not " truly in need", the school district undermines the intention of the feeding program. Every meal given to a child who is not truly in need, is one less meal for a truly needy person. This feeding program and all entitlement programs need to be managed in order to ensure abuse is minimized. It seems school districts and local entities view federal funds and grants as "freebies" and they compete aggressively for these freebies without regard for need. There seems to be an attitude of "get the money and spend it before some other agency does. This attitude encourages wasteful spending of federal money. Will it ever change?

  • Joe Baxter posted at 4:50 pm on Sat, Jul 10, 2010.

    Joe Baxter Posts: 1795

    JERRY BRANSOM...I never said this program was the sole cause of America's financial collapse, but multiply this program times dozens of similiar programs plus entitlement programs and they are certainly a major contributing factor. If you can't afford to feed your kids, don't have them. Lots of people have learned that good old taxpayers will pick up the tab for obligations they can't or won't pay for. I saw a lot of mothers lined up with these kids and many were talking on cell phones. They can afford what they WANT because there is grant money from the "Grant Fairy" to feed their kids. When did it become taxpayers obligation to feed anyone elses children besides their own?

  • Larry Hamilton posted at 1:15 pm on Sat, Jul 10, 2010.

    Larry Hamilton Posts: 50

    What ever happen to peanut and jelly sandwich from home? The little darlings can even make them their self if mon's to lazy to get them ready for school.

  • Jerry Bransom posted at 10:46 pm on Fri, Jul 9, 2010.

    Jerry Bransom Posts: 363

    Haha.. "programs like this got us into the mess we are in..." Joe Baxter must be a Banker, Broker or Mortgage Lender. If not, call the doctor.



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