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San Juan Unified expands summer food distribution effort, partners with Sacramento Food Bank


This summer, the San Juan Unified School District continues to not only offer free meals for students during the summer but also has expanded its efforts through a new partnership.

The main food distribution service – breakfast and lunch – is the same from last year, with more schools having been added.

Raj Rai, the district’s director of communications, said all children in the district can participate.

“We are serving summer meals at six school sites this summer, including one high school (San Juan High in Citrus Heights),” Rai said. “At the six sites, all children 18 years or younger can come and enjoy the meals (breakfast and lunch). All meals are offered under the (state) Universal Meals program.”

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Rai said students participating in summer academic programs also have access to food this summer.

“Meals are also offered at Del Campo and Mira Loma high schools for students enrolled in academic programs hosted at those sites this summer,” Rai said. “There have not been any significant changes from last year for our summer meals program.”

So, how has the food distribution in SJUSD improved from last year? 

“We try to vary our meal options for students,” Rai said. “This year, we are celebrating Farm 2 Summer week from June 17-21, with the theme of Let’s Have a Picnic! On June 20, we’re incorporating cold picnic-style lunch menus at four of our locations, including locally sourced cantaloupe.”

Rai said more details can be found at: 

One of the most important advances this year is SJUSD’s partnership with the Sacramento Food Bank. 

“The Sacramento Food Bank helps support our district in a variety of ways,” Rai said. “They partner with us for our district’s monthly drive-through and walk-in food distributions and provide canned food, dry goods and fresh produce for families and community members.”

Rai said the Sacramento Food Bank not only helps with direct food distribution but in other ways as well.

“They also provide us with shelf-stable food boxes for our central and school site food pantries, as well as to distribute during our FACE Mobile visits each week,” Rai said. “Additionally, they have provided the district’s FACE Mobile (a bus with resources that travels around our district) and our Early Childhood Education program with free diapers, which can then be distributed to families with young children.”

Students have had a positive reaction to this new partnership.

“It’s great that the Sacramento Food Bank partnered with the school district,” said Daniel Zariv, who graduated this spring from Mira Loma. “Honestly in my opinion, providing nutrition for students greatly benefits their mental health. It helps prevent depression related to low food intake, which can significantly impact their daily lives and education.”

Zariv said the partnership is not only beneficial day-to-day but also serves as a long-term investment in the district’s students.

“The students have an opportunity to eat more vegetables and fruits which are essential,” Zariv said. “It’s important to note that they are in the growing stages of their life as-well. These students had been relying on the food for the past school year, and the summer break could be a barrier to a healthy lifestyle for them to some extent if SJUSD had not partnered with the Sacramento Food Bank.”

Zariv advanced his notion that the district’s summer food program is about more than just feeding students.

“Having these meals ready at convenient locations for the students,” he said, “is significant in promoting equity in communities.”

The close connection between the Sacramento Food Bank and SJUSD isn’t new – it runs deep, growing every year including this one. Rosie Cerna, the Partner Agency and Community Engagement Fulfillment Manager, explained the thorough history between these two organizations. 

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) has been partnering with SJUSD for over a decade,” Cerna said. “They became part of our network when we merged with Senior Gleaners in 2014.”

Cerna also explained how during the first year the Sacramento Food Bank and SJUSD were able to increase the impact of nourishing individuals during the early years.

“Working together for about a year, we awarded funds to the McKinney Vento team through a capacity grant to expand their on-site storage by purchasing a cargo container and expanding their existing pantry storage to make room for some commercial refrigeration so they could provide perishable products like milk and produce,” Cerna said. “In addition, they outlined a strategy to do a once-a-month drive through distribution that would serve the entire community. They gradually expanded from feeding 100 families a month to about 430 families a month with their combined distributions.”

The future of this long standing partnership appears bright. Emma Gibb, the Food Access Team Lead for the Sacramento Food Bank, shared her view on what can be expected for the future.

We hope to continue to see this partnership grow and expand,” Gibb said. “Over time, that’ll look different as needs and capacities change, but we are committed to working with SJUSD to continue making adjustments, responding to needs and supporting them as they work to provide resources to their students and families.”

Gibb continued by explaining what some of these adaptations may include.

“Every partnership looks different, and we expect to continue to see SJUSD find the models and programs that work best for them, their students and their families,” Gibb said. “This could mean focusing efforts on their district pantry or working with specific high need schools to facilitate food box distributions.”

Gibb alluded to, in a final analysis, the partnership this year having the potential to have a high impact.

“We know schools and school districts are one of the best avenues for reaching and working with families,” Gibb said, “and we are excited to continue our robust partnership with SJUSD to keep serving this community.”

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Rishi Upadhyay
Rishi Upadhyay, Reporter
Hello! My name is Rishi Upadhyay, and I am currently a senior at Mira Loma High School. I enjoy reading, writing, playing the piano, and traveling. I love being near the ocean, and my favorite place to visit is Hawaii.
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