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Redwood Empire Food Bank’s summer lunch program feeds Sonoma County youth in need

While most students look forward to their annual summer break, thousands of kids in Sonoma County and Northern California lose access to free and reduced-cost lunches when schools close in June.

In response to that meal gap, the Redwood Empire Food Bank will offer free and healthy breakfast and lunch to children 18 and under across Sonoma County through its long-running Summer Lunch program from June 6 through Aug. 12.

Any child age 18 and under can get breakfast and lunch at one of the program’s 44 meal sites, with no advance sign-up required.

The program has been around since 2004. Last year, the Summer Lunch program distributed more than 75,000 meals, said Maria Fuentes, manager of Redwood Empire Food Bank’s Every Child, Every Day.

“It’s been a more successful program for the last few years,” Fuentes said.

While COVID-19 restrictions made it challenging to find volunteers to work the meal distribution sites, Fuentes said the pandemic allowed the food bank to begin offering grab-and-go meal packages in lieu of the sit-down meals previously required as part of the federally-funded program.

“Because we were not congregating and it was not safe to do so, there were waivers put in place that allowed us to give out bundles of meals that parents could easily pick up at our food distribution sites,” she said.

According to Fuentes, the grab-and-go option allowed more parents to visit the distribution sites at many different times of day.

This summer, grab-and-go meal options will continue at least until the end of June, when the federal waivers officially expire. Fuentes hopes the waivers will be extended into July and August due to ongoing COVID infections, but she does not know when that decision will be made.

Some sites will continue to offer ready-to-eat meals at sites that will be open Monday through Friday each week, while grab-and-go sites will each be open one day a week. In addition to daily lunches and to-go meals, some meal sites will be offering weekly groceries for the entire family.

This year’s Summer Lunch sites are located throughout Santa Rosa, Cloverdale, Sonoma, Rohnert Park, Cotati and Healdsburg. The Summer Lunch program is also expanding to Lake County for the first time.

To find the nearest Summer Lunch program location, visit getfood.refb.org. Families seeking immediate assistance or more information about the Summer Lunch Program can call the Redwood Empire Food Bank at 707-523-7903.

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