By Lillian Bowe
Brothers Christian Martinez, 4, and Joseph, 7, got to enjoy a small picnic with fresh fruit, chicken nuggets and milk on Wednesday at City Park. Ashley Martinez, their mother, said the best part of the picnic was that her sons’ meals were free.
Their free lunch is part of a summer lunch program sponsored by La Casa Family Health Center.
“I have brought them about four times, as they have been busy this summer, but I like the program. The food is good,” Ashley Martinez said.
In addition to lunch, the summer food program has expanded to serve breakfast for the first time this year.
David Briseno, director of Portales’ summer food program, said La Casa has added breakfast this year because of it is another chance to feed more children in the area.
“We have been thinking about adding breakfast for a couple of years. We have the resources to provide breakfast,” Briseno said.
Breakfast is served in five locations and the average number of meals served between those locations is about 340.
Briseno said they will look at the end numbers for breakfast and they may continue to provide it for next year.
The free breakfast and lunches are given to children 18 years old and under and the meals are under the same guidelines as school lunches. La Casa is reimbursed by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department by the number of meals they serve.
Eastern New Mexico University’s Kids’ College and Portales Recreation Center programs both utilize the free meals program for the children enrolled.
According the Briseno, the lunch program number has increased from last year.
Hundreds were being severed last year and this year the program is averaging 1,100 meals per day.
“The largest amount of kids we have had was 1,300. The word has really gotten out on the program,” Briseno said.
Sabreena Aranda hands out meals at City Park and predicts she serves about 200 meal every day.
“We have a lot of kids coming out every day,” Aranda said.
The food provided is cooked by Gloria Gonzales, the head cook at Valencia Elementary School.
“I think the lunches we provide are great. I have not received any complaints about the food this year. (Gonzales) has done a great job with the meals this year,” Briseno said.
The lunch program will continue through Aug. 1.