On the Road with The Mobile Lunch Box
Summer may be winding down, but The Mobile Lunch Box is still on the move. On a recent afternoon, when the mobile food truck pulled up to the curb at Rahn Park in Eagan, Minn., 20 kids abandoned their stations on the playground and sprinted in the direction of the vehicle. They were excited for free lunch.
The Mobile Lunch Box is organized by The Open Door food pantry and brings free summer meals to kids at four locations in school districts 191 and 196. “Summer is a tremendously challenging time for families, especially families who receive free or reduced lunch benefits during the school year,” explained Jason Viana, the executive director of The Open Door. “A struggling family will see no increase in their budget but will face the demand of 10 or more meals each week for each of their children. We built The Mobile Lunch Box program to make sure those children still have access to fresh and healthy food during the summer.”
A Growing Program
While the economy may be in good shape, many families living paycheck to paycheck are just one health problem or car repair away from being hungry. Sadly, Viana knows firsthand that food is often the first necessity to go when money is tight leaving many children where their next meal will come from.
“We have heard from many of our kids that on days when we are not there they do not eat,” Viana said.
Last summer, The Mobile Lunch Box served over 2,000 lunches, and it’s projected to serve nearly 600 more meals this year. Since it began in 2014, the program has grown with help from the research and connections made possible by Second Harvest Heartland. “Second Harvest Heartland has helped us meet other Summer Meals program staff to compare notes and learn how we can make our program more impactful moving forward,” Viana shared.
Helayna Sjoberg has coordinated The Mobile Lunch Box for the past two summers, and she also has noticed how the initiative is expanding. “Our program has grown so much since last year,” she said. “It really helps to take the strain off families.”
Every child who visits The Mobile Lunch Box receives an entrée, a fruit and vegetable, and milk as well as a “kid bag” filled with granola bars, applesauce, and other snacks to bring home. All the food is sourced from the school districts and from Kowalski’s Markets. At The Mobile Lunch Box, kids are especially excited to get chocolate milk, juice boxes, and apples, but Sjoberg said that “the pizza kit is definitely the favorite food.”
While the kids enjoy getting free, nutritious lunches, Sjoberg has fun giving out the food alongside the volunteer staff. “You do start to get to know the kids a little bit,” she shared. “You can’t really go wrong with a job where you get to feed kids all day, wear running shorts and a t-shirt and work outside.”