Child Nutrition Department personnel cook up special work year-round for students

Published 12:50 am Saturday, May 6, 2023

Parents may never meet some of the most important people in their children’s lives. But ranging from behind-the-glass in the cafeterias to the administration buildings where programs are developed, Child Nutrition Departments are working beyond the scheduled school year to ensure every child has access to healthy meals.

“We try to serve them healthy meals,” said Elvira Davalos, cafeteria manager at Staff Sergeant Lucian Adams Elementary School on 9th Avenue.

“We make sure we serve the right meal and the right portions. Everybody has a duty — vegetables, fruits — to make sure we’re serving the right portions, and to make sure they’re getting enough nutrition.”

Christina Maldonado, left, and Brenda Moreno are pictured in the Adams Elementary School Cafeteria on 2023 School Lunch Hero Day. (Monique Batson/The News)

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According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, one in every five children do not receive adequate nutrition.

And ensuring they do, said Adams Principal Erica Seastrunk, can be the most important part of a child’s school day.

“You don’t think well when you’re hungry. You don’t work hard when you’re hungry,” she said. “You’re focused on, ‘I’m hungry. I need something to eat.’ So when children come in in the morning, the cafeteria and staff ensure all of our kids are fed daily. If they come in a little late, they leave the cafeteria open so they can eat when they get here.”

For more than a decade, the Port Arthur Independent School District has offered free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of household income.

“It takes a lot of stress off of parents,” Seastrunk said. “It takes stress off us as administrators. You don’t want to be faced with the fact that a kid doesn’t have lunch money because children don’t control whether they have money or not. But children need to eat, so that just eliminates a big stressor for everybody.”

In addition, children who stay after school for activities such as tutoring are provided with a snack.

But the cafeteria doesn’t close when the school year ends, as some children only have access to adequate nutrition at school.

Each year the Department of Agriculture funds the Summer Food Program, which opens participating schools up to all children under 18 for free breakfast and lunch.

Port Arthur Independent School District is a participating district.

“The cafeteria is fully operational in the summer,” Seastrunk said. “I want children to eat. We encourage children to eat. If you’re not hungry, drink the milk or drink the juice. Get something in you so that you have a good day.”

Locations for free summer meals in Port Arthur and Mid County will be published at a later date.