Among 22,000 students in HUSD, 78 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunches
■ Chronicle News Service
Hemet Unified School District staff serves nearly 22,000 students. Among those, 78 percent qualify for free or reduced cost lunches. The district knows that there are students who eat only while they are at school and that they leave on Fridays afternoons worrying about what they are going to eat over the weekend. With this thought driving the focus, the HUSD director of purchasing, Andy McGuire, worked with the Salvation Army to provide food to students while they are not at school.
The Salvation Army has access to funds and resources that can support 100 students until February. While this is an amazing feat, McGuire did not want to stop there. With the help of The Salvation Army, HUSD provided barrels at each school and at the District Office to collect healthy food donations that will be given to students.
Miriam Ortiz, Parent Engagement Specialist, is working with each school’s Parent Liaison to identify students who are in need. With the written consent from families, students will be provided with healthy meals on Friday afternoon.
This initiative began the first week of November. So far, there have been students at five different schools that have benefited.
Anyone wishing to donate food for students within Hemet Unified may visit their nearest school to make donations. Below is a list of the food items that are being collected. These items were chosen to provide healthy food for students and are simple enough to make with minimal access to a kitchen.
HUSD extends its appreciation to McGuire, Ortiz and all those who have already donated to this initiative. Thanks to them, students will be able to come to school with food in their stomach, focused and ready to receive their education.
• 100 percent juice drinks – food banks like to have juices on hand, especially for kids, but juices with high fructose corn syrup can be harmful for kids. As long as it is 100 percent fruit juice it is a healthy choice.
• Holiday foods – food banks face high traffic around the holidays and need lots of these seasonal staples. Holiday foods aren’t always the most healthy; look for stuffing mix that’s low in sodium and notes that cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes can be “packed with antioxidants which help strengthen your immune system during cold and flu season.”
• Low-sodium vegetables – mixed vegetables are also a good option because they make for more colorful and well-rounded meals. These are a great donation because of all the vitamins and fiber that vegetables offer”
• Canned tuna, chicken, and salmon – canned tuna, chicken, and salmon are non-perishable and can be added to many meals for a much-needed protein boost. These are three of the most useful items you can give to a food bank.
• Unsalted nuts – mixed nuts are a great and highly needed source of protein and vitamins. They tend to be more expensive and hard to keep stocked at food banks, which makes them a welcome donation. Unsalted nuts are the healthiest option for your donation (or your own snacking).
• No sugar added fruits – canned fruits and fruit cups are good snacks for kids, high in Vitamin C and nutrients, and keep well on food bank shelves. Donate fruits packed in water or fruit juice rather than heavy syrup.
• Shelf-stable milk – milk is a great source of calcium and protein, but it’s hard for food banks to buy and manage fresh milk that will go bad in a week or two. Food banks are always in need of shelf-stable and powdered milk that will last a long time.
• Whole grain pasta – pasta is filling and non-perishable that goes a long way, but white pasta doesn’t have a high nutritional value, so try to donate whole grain varieties. Whole grain pasta is a great way to promote fiber intake. It’s also easy to turn into a meal without too many extra ingredients.
• Canned beef stew – canned beef stew is an all-purpose, non-perishable good. It’s a warming meal full of meats, veggies, and complex carbohydrates. It’s also really helpful if the can doesn’t require a can opener. Canned stews tend to be high in sodium, so also include more nutritious foods in your donation.
• Brown rice – Like whole grain pasta, brown rice is a filling and versatile base for many meals, high in fiber and Vitamin B. Boxed rices are easy to store, easy to distribute, and help make meals go further. Easy-to-store grains like quinoa, which is “super high in protein, makes a great meal option.
• Oatmeal – oatmeal is a healthy and filling breakfast. Because you don’t need other ingredients to make oatmeal, it’s great for food banks. It’s a good source of protein and fiber, leaving one full and satiated for a longer period of time. Donate the plain/original flavor to avoid any added sugars. The instant packets are the perfect individual portion size.
• Canola and olive oil – canola and olive oils are highly sought after by most food banks. Oil is important for cooking, and these oils provide relatively healthy calories thanks to their mono-unsaturated fats. Because oil tends to be on the expensive side, food banks often depend on them being donated.
• Peanut butter – peanut butter is another protein-rich food that’s always in high demand. Just because it’s not in a can doesn’t mean it’s not a great thing to donate to your food drive.
• Low-sodium soups – Like stews, soups are a great way to get all of the food groups together in one hearty bowl. Again, most food banks prefer lower-sodium soups to make sure people seeking assistance are getting healthy meals as often as possible. It’s best to choose soups with a lot of vegetables, as they are higher in fiber, which will keep one feeling fuller for longer.
• Beans – this is a good high-protein staple that food banks can keep on their shelves for ages. Beans also have the benefits of being filling and maintaining most of their nutrients even when canned. Some call them nutrition powerhouses full of fiber, protein, and Vitamin B.
• Low-sugar cereals – cereals like Cheerios and Fiber One are good donations to food banks because they’re high in healthy whole grains and low in sugar, with only about 1 g per serving.
• Granola bars and popcorn – Food banks are always looking for healthy snacks to give out, especially to families with kids. Granola bars are a good choice because they keep well and they’re healthy, as long as you choose brands that aren’t packed with sugar. Popcorn also is a filling, whole grain snack.