Whenever families walk near Carpenter’s Park in Milton on the way to the new splash or playground, James Kelly tries to get their attention from his food truck by blowing his trumpet or playing music.
Kelly works to make sure he reaches everyone who passes by, but not because he is trying to sell something. In fact, it is the opposite. Kelly is tasked with providing free lunches from the Santa Rosa County School District to children ages 18 and under as part of a new initiative to reach out to families who can use a little extra help during the summer.
“(Parents have) the biggest smiles. They are always happy, always grateful. Children are always grateful,” said Kelly, who works as an assistant manager at the food service at Milton High School during the school year.
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The food truck is open from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day of the week during the summer. The district aims to serve about 40 or 50 meals a day on site, but Kelly said during his busiest day at the park, he has served up to 80 meals.
Meals are free for all children and children do not have to be residents of Santa Rosa County to attend. Those who receive meals should also not qualify in any way.
The food truck is part of the summer meal program in the district funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He provides another type of sandwich every day or sometimes a chicken wrapper, as well as a juice or milk and fruits and vegetables.
“Families are really enjoying it and some families really need it. This is the most important part we are serving our community,” said Leslie Bell, director of child nutrition for the school district.
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One of the parents having lunch on Tuesday was Zack Stafford, who recently moved from Washington to Santa Rosa County. He said his children have frequented the Carpenter Park, but this was the first time they stopped near the food truck.
“It makes me feel so much better about my community. I can drop my 11-year-old in the park and I can run and go get groceries or something like that and I don’t have to worry if he’s going to be in able to find something to eat or drink, “Stafford said.
This is the first year the truck has been parked in the park. District staff thought spraying would appeal to children who may miss a meal while out of school and provide an opportunity for families who may not be able to drive at Milton High School, which is the site of open of district food this summer.
“The food truck gives us an opportunity to get meals to the children where they are. So the families are there enjoying the activities in the Carpentry Park, then we are able to get meals in those places that have a large amount of volume of children, “Bell said.
Grace Smith got a lunch for her 6-year-old on Tuesday while he was playing on the playground. She attends the park because her children are educated at home.
“Great is great. I would love to do it during the school year for home school kids, but it’s definitely a public school thing,” Smith said. “Great great (having a free healthy lunch). Definitely definitely great.”
The Carpenter Park is just one of many wine-eating locations throughout the counties of Escambia and Santa Rosa. Parents can go to summerbreakspot.org to find a place near them. They can also call 888-704-FOOD (3663), visit feedthegulfcoast.org or write “FoodFL” at 877-877.
Madison Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8522.