Santa Ana Unified to offer free weekend meals for children – Orange County Register


With lots of families in Santa Ana facing economic hardship, parents soon will be able to turn to local schools for free weekend meals for their children.

Santa Ana Unified School District employees already distribute free food for children Monday through Friday. Every child is eligible, regardless of whether he or she attends a district school.  And beginning Friday, March 5, distribution will be expanded to include extra breakfasts, lunches, snacks and “a super snack,” which covers dinners, for Saturday and Sunday.

“We have families who are struggling right now,” said Josh Goddard, the nutrition services director for Santa Ana Unified. “We think that by providing meals for the weekends, it will provide additional support.”

Since the pandemic closed campuses last spring, district workers have given out some 4.9 million meals.

“That’s about half of what we do during a regular calendar year,” Goddard said.

About 90 % of Santa Ana Unified’s 45,000 students qualify for a free or reduced priced meal. The district, however, opens it up to all students, regardless of whether they qualify, Goddard said. When campuses were open, a typical day would entail some 50,000 free breakfasts, lunches and snacks, along with dinner “super snacks” that are similar to lunch servings.  As many as 35,000 children usually participate in the program, Goddard said. Today, the district serves 7,000 to 8,000 children with 28,000 to 32,000 meals a day.

Families can pick up the day’s meals, packaged cold or frozen, at one of 56 campuses across the city. After March 5, every Friday will include packages for Saturday and Sunday.

“The good thing about Santa Ana is that there’s a school on practically every corner,” Goddard said.

District officials also provide a school bus delivery service to an apartment complex on Lyon Street that’s not near schools. Some 200 children are served there once a day, Monday through Friday.

Some favorites among students are the pork or chicken tamales, burritos, pizza and fruit cups, he said. Getting such meals from school not only provides financial relief to their families – many hit by the pandemic, with layoffs and other hardships – but also offers students a connection to school while they’re distance-learning from home.

“Kids have told us it’s made them feel that they’re back at school,” Goddard said.

When the pandemic first closed campuses last March, district officials distributed the food via drive-through at 13 sites. But not everyone has a car and the drive-throughs also caused some traffic related issues, Goddard said. So the district expanded the distribution to all its school sites on a walk-in basis, he said.

The meal service has helped people like Maria Hernandez, a long-time employee at Diamond Elementary. Hernandez picks up food for nine children, including her eight grandchildren, one who lives with her and others who live nearby.

“I’m thankful for the food,” she said. “It’s helped us a lot.”

Most of the schools offer meal packages between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., but some offer them instead in the morning or the afternoon to reach as many people as possible. For more information, visit


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