Douglas County School District offers free summer lunch program

Meals for those 18 and under served Monday through Friday


For the fourth summer in a row, the Nutrition Services team at the Douglas County School District is offering free lunch for kids and teens, Monday through Friday, at various times and locations across the county.

“It's a pretty amazing program,” said Jennifer Peifer, manager of operations for the school district's Nutrition Services team. “The rules allow us to provide free lunch to any kid age 18 and under, regardless or their status, where they are from or what district they are in. There are not a lot of resources like that in a relatively affluent district like this.”

Federally funded, the Summer Food Service Program is a state-administered program that reimburses school districts that serve free meals to adolescents and children in low-income areas, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Douglas County enacted the program to address a need: 12 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to the district. That breaks down to 8,144 students in grades pre-K through 12.

“For those of use who work in nutritional program, our whole goal is to be a consistent source of healthy meals for kids, to guarantee they are going to have a healthy meal every day, regardless of what they have at home,” Peifer said. “This really fills that gap in the summertime for a lot of those kids.”

Wearing shirts with DCSD's logo, members of the nutrition team set up tables at designated sites around lunchtime to serve meals. No identification is required. Menu options vary and include hot meals, such as pizza or chicken nuggets, and cold options, like sandwiches. Each meal comes with an entrée, a side of fresh fruit and vegetables, and milk.

“Any kid in the area can come up to our table,” said Peifer. “It's a really nice way for them to get a full meal.”

The program has expanded this year to three locations in northern Highlands Ranch. On average, 12 percent of students in Highlands Ranch schools qualify for free and reduced lunches, Peifer said. But in some areas, like neighborhoods near County Line Road, that number jumps to 20 percent to 25 percent, she said.

“We wanted to test out that region and see if the need is there,” Peifer said.

Other sites are at parks, apartment complexes and schools in Castle Rock and unincorporated Douglas County. The goal is to reduce the stigma of needing free lunch by hosting the sites at popular parks where children of all statuses can benefit.

“Those that really need it can come get food without worrying about being identified or standing out in a crowd,” said Peifer. “A lot of parents find it to be a very convenient — it's a handy program to offer.”


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