Western Dubuque’s Food and Nutrition Services Department will offer its popular Summer Food Program again this year.

The district, in partnership with the James Kennedy Public Library in Dyersville, and Cascade Elementary, will be serving free grab-and-go meals for children 18 and younger, regardless of race, color, economic status, sex, or disability. The program is funded by the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

Western Dubuque Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Kyle Gansen, stated the program has been serving area communities for five years.

“It’s a very busy process. On average, we serve 300 meals a day in Dyersville and 90 in Cascade,” said Gansen. “That’s just the lunches. Each meal also comes with a breakfast for the next day, so when you times those numbers by two, it’s a pretty big undertaking.”

An effort of this magnitude takes a dedicated group of people to make things work.

“I have about six people that work every day between the two locations. We all meet in Farley, where everything is produced,” Gansen said. “Two of my staff members go to Cascade, three to Dyersville, and one hangs around to clean up and get the fresh produce ready for the next day.”

Each meal includes a hot entree or an uncrusted PBJ sandwich, fruit or vegetables, chips and chocolate milk.

“Every day we try to do a hot option. A lot of these summer food programs are cold meat sandwiches or not really a hot item,” said Gansen. “Some of these kids might not have the ability for hot meals all the time. So we pride ourselves on trying to make our entree hot every day.”

Gansen explained that the meals are tailored to the tastes of school-age kids.

“We generally use a lot of items that are part of our school nutrition program that we’re familiar with and keep their temperature and their warmth,” he said. “We try to relate to the kids. There were a few different options that were shared over the past years and we’d get feedback that the kids didn’t like them.

“I try to incorporate a main entree the kids are familiar with. Our first week we use popcorn chicken, we do a cheeseburger and pizza crunchers. We always offer a fresh fruit or fresh vegetable — sometimes both — depending on how much time we have to prepare everything.”

“We try to focus on the fresh fruits the kids really like. They really get a kick out of the grapes or strawberries — stuff they might not get at home. Sometimes we’ll throw something in there hoping the kids try it. One bit of feedback from the parents is that if the kids won’t eat it, they have lunch for the next day.”

The added bonus of breakfast for the next morning is a big plus for the program.

“Obviously, we know the breakfast is probably going to be used the next day,” said Gansen. “Occasionally we’ll throw in waffles that just need to be thrown in the toaster, or we’ll include breakfast pizza that needs to be thrown in the oven or the microwave. The parents like it because it’s one less thing they have to do the next day.”

The program kicks off June 14 and continues Monday through Friday until July 30, with meals available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day, with no meals served July 2. Meals are available for pick up by vehicle or walk up outside the Dyersville Library or Cascade Elementary.

“The one thing I’m really trying to get across to people is that these meals are for everybody. Regardless of income, it just makes these families’ weeks easier,” said Gansen. “We got the word out last year that these are for everybody and we had increased participation.

“We want everybody to take advantage of this. The school district benefits since we are reimbursed for every meal we serve. We’re trying to make it clear that we want you coming through our line regardless of who you are or where you’re from.”

Registration is not required to participate in the program.

“It’s a drive-through, and I will post menus — I think I’ll do it daily — on the school’s Facebook and Twitter pages,” continued Gansen. “ The goal is just to let people know that between 11:30 and 1:30 every day that you’ll have access to good meals.”