The Community Summer Lunch Program in Deer Park, which served vital meals to youth, ended prematurely this year due to low community participation and communication issues. Operated by the Deer Park School District through the Summer Food Service Program, had to be relocated to Perrins Field for this summer.
The annual Summer Lunch Program faced an unexpected conclusion this year, ending two weeks earlier than planned. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to kids ages 1-18, with reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In this instance, the Deer Park School District serves as a program operator. The premature halt was primarily attributed to a lack of community participation, a setback caused, in part, by a web of communication challenges that led to significant confusion among residents.
The Deer Park Gazette staff was glad to see this program was back this year when Dru Gibson, the Administrative Assistant of Custodial, Maintenance & Nutrition Services of Deer Park School District, emailed us all the information. We want to thank her for her timely and accurate information. When we contacted Gibson about the early ending, she said, “We are very disappointed and sorry that we have to close the Perrins Field lunch site as there is just not enough participation to keep it open. We have communicated with our state specialists and they agree this needs to happen.”
Traditionally, the Summer Lunch Program has been an essential food source for children during the summer months, ensuring they have access to nutritious meals. In years past, these community lunches were served at familiar locations, either at the Deer Park Middle School or Swinyard Park, home to the community pool. However, this year presented unique challenges.
Unfortunately, the transition to Perrins Field was accompanied by some communication hiccups. Conflicting information about the program’s schedule became a hurdle. While the accurate schedule stipulated that free lunches were available from 12:30pm to 1:00pm, misinformation circulated, indicating a later time of 1:00pm to 1:30pm. This left parents and children uncertain about the timing.
Adding to the confusion, incorrect details about the program’s location spread across social media platforms. For a time, various individuals online mistakenly shared that the lunches were being distributed at Swinyard Park. This inaccurate location information compounded the confusion and contributed to the decline in participation. The USDA currently posts a list with a map of the lunches’ locations and times. They displayed information for the Perrins Field lunch in July; however, the program started on June 20th, making it challenging for individuals to verify the information.
Additionally, the absence of the familiar school district truck, a staple of past summer lunch program distributions, further fueled uncertainty among families and left many questioning if the program was really at Perrins Field. There was a banner attached to the fence at Perrins Field. On the banner was an 8.5 by 11 paper with the correct time information. However, it was difficult to read from the road while driving.
The Community Summer Lunch Program’s untimely end emphasizes the importance of community involvement in these programs to ensure their continuation. Spreading the word is great, and ensuring you have the most accurate information is key. Residents can also attend school board meetings and share their experiences and feedback.