School district makes meals available through the summer

J.G. Johnson Elementary School in Pahrump is serving kids, under the age of 18, education, breakfast and lunch, through the summer.

Food Service Coordinator Jodi Martinez, in the Southern District office, said, “What we do is feed kids — lots of kids.” Feeding, in this case includes minds and bodies, with classes starting after breakfast; lunch served at 11:30 a.m.; and exercise and more classes through the afternoon.

Guardians and parents pay $100 for the whole program, which runs through Aug. 16.

Math, English language arts, including reading and writing, are taught during the summer program. On the first day, all 140 kids who signed-up attended the program.

“It’s an extension of the regular school year,” added Martinez, who is passionate about the program that supports the kids through most of their young lives.

She hopes the word gets out that while the food and education program for the summer is filled, any child under 18 can come for breakfast and lunch and it’s free.

Parents must stay with the kids in this case. There are other food programs as well.

• At Pahrump Valley High School lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to noon, Tuesday through Thursday from June 11 through July 25. No meals will be served the week of July 4.

• At Rosemary Clarke Middle School, breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. until noon, Monday through Thursday from July 15 through Aug. 8.

“I want to emphasize that these are all ‘open sites,’” said Martinez, meaning any child can come to any of these locations to eat free.

That leaves only one week on either end of the school district’s summer vacation, when no educational or food program is offered.

Does Martinez know how many kids wouldn’t get good nutrition if these programs didn’t exist? She said, “We don’t really keep that kind of information, but what we do know is the programs are in place to feed every kid who needs a meal and that’s why we’re here doing this. If we feed one child it’s a success.”

According to Food Services Supervisor Dawna Braithwaite, “Since Jodi Martinez took over a year ago, we’ve been operating in the black, and we have funding for our programs and it’s all well organized.”

Martinez said she has been in food service all her life. She was manager of several fast food chain locations, a district manager for four of those and owned her own restaurant for four years before moving to Pahrump. She comes from a family of 15 kids.

One of the delights noted by both Martinez and Braithwaite are the salad bars, which are now a part of every lunch program. They are a great success. Kids surprisingly are not only interested in but like things like soy beans, kidney beans, garbanzos, and dark fresh greens.

On occasion more “exotic” foods are added like sea grass, dates and other foods which also get favorable comments from the kids, according to Martinez. She said, “On different occasions, we would give a child a whole pear and they didn’t know what it was. They had only seen fruits and vegetables sliced and cubed out of cans.

“I think some of these positive changes that add nutrients to the program menus are due to First Lady Michelle Obama, and her being out there with information on gardens and eating whole, fresh foods. That raised awareness in the system and helps families be more aware, as well as expanding the government’s menu planning.”

The kids expressed appreciation for the effort. Kids in kindergarten through eighth grade wrote letters to those that supported them throughout the school year. Martinez pointed to several that came from the kids in the Beatty Elementary School. They read in part:

“I like nutrition because it is healthy. It has vitamin A, B, C, D, and E. My favorite fruit was strawberries. I think we should have it again next year.”

Another reads, “I like it (nutrition) and vegetables and fruits in all the different colors, like blood(y) oranges — the juice is red.”

A young lady wrote, “I learned from this program not to judge things before you try it.” Some expressed liking honeydew melons, star fruit, things that have lots of iron, and knowing that pineapples grow on trees.

Kids K-8 have an ongoing nutrition folder they can use at home and during the summer.

Martinez said, “They are paying attention to what they’re eating. After grade eight, they are less interested in school meals and off with friends somewhere else for lunches, but now, they know more at an early age and can make better decisions for themselves.”

The Nye County School District summer food service program is also happening in Amargosa and Beatty at the elementary schools.

A special G.R.E.A.T. program (put on by the Sheriff’s office), is offering again their team-building course with games and sack lunches during the week of Aug. 12 through 16 at 1600 Honeysuckle Street.

The annual program helps build character and positive ways to work with a group as well as good exercise. Lunch is served between 11:30 a.m. and noon.

On average 150 breakfasts are served during the summer, and around 70 lunches each day. Braithwaite and Martinez said, “We’re here to feed kids and we love our jobs. We think this is the best job in the whole school district.”

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