Boston schools launch meals on wheels to reach students

Branden Varilus, 3, of Somerville, was among 243 children who received a free meal outside of the Franklin Park.
Branden Varilus, 3, of Somerville, was among 243 children who received a free meal outside of the Franklin Park. Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Borrowing a page from the popular commercial food trucks, the Boston School Department is taking its summer food program on the road to bring meals to students.

For the first time Friday, the School Department sent a truck stocked with about 600 lunches to three locations across the city.

The food truck, which does not charge for meals, is the latest addition to the summer program that provides breakfasts and lunches to more than 11,000 young people each day at more than 120 community centers and schools.

“It seemed like a wonderful way to expand, as not all the kids in Boston are at traditional sites during the summer,” Michael Peck, the School Department’s director of food and nutrition services, said after the truck doled out 247 lunches Friday near Franklin Park Zoo, its final stop of the day. Among the offerings: chicken Cobb salad and fresh wraps.


The truck also served lunches at the Christian Science Plaza and Carson Beach in South Boston. Breakfasts were handed out in the morning at White Stadium, in Franklin Park.

Unlike a commercial truck, where customers are served from a big window in the vehicle, the school’s truck transports the food to the site, and employees then set up a table to serve children.

The School Department serves free breakfast and lunch as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program. While demand is steady, fewer summer meals are served than the free or reduced-price meals students are served during the school year, Peck said.

To close that gap, the department has launched an advertising campaign to promote the summer meals program and is pursuing nontraditional approaches, such as the food truck, to reach more students.

“It has so much potential, because there’s little investment in the food truck and the potential for coverage is as creative as we can get,” said Peck, noting that the truck can go wherever children gather, even if it is just for a day- or week-long event.


The program will run as a pilot on weekdays through August using a truck provided by its food vendor, and Peck said he is thinking of converting old school buses into food trucks for next summer.

“Despite the prosperity I think that one sees across the city, our student body doesn’t necessarily reflect that,” Peck said.

In Boston, 78 percent of public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Summer food programs such as Boston’s are an increasingly important and successful weapon against child hunger, according to a new report.

Cambridge-based Abt Associates, in partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, found that providing meals and snacks to children from low-income families during the summer reduced the rate of “very low food security” among children by 33 percent. Very low food security occurs when a child’s food intake is reduced or their eating pattern is disrupted.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, whose food initiatives office helped launch the food truck program, praised the new program.

“Families are always asking me how we can add more fresh and healthy meals for students in our schools, and this is a great way to meet children where they are during the summer months,” Menino said in a statement.

Rookmin Bhagwandeen, a school employee who serves summer meals, said reaction to the food truck has been positive and interest high at Franklin Park, where every lunch was served.


“I love it,” Bhagwandeen said. “We did different sites, you know, bringing the kids to you, so it was really nice — a good experience.”

Johanna Kaiser can be reached at kaiserjohanna@gmail.com.