Dylan Locker hands out a bag of food at Isla Vista Elementary. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Schools may be empty for now, but Goleta Union School District (GUSD) employees and volunteers are hard at work to ensure students are still being fed.

In response to school closures in late March, the school district launched a grab-and-go bagged meals program to provide free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18 or under. The program is open to anyone in need, regardless of their school registration or meal-plan status; no sign-up or application is required. Meals can be picked up on weekdays 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at five Goleta distribution sites: Isla Vista, Ellwood, El Camino, and La Patera elementary schools, as well as the Goleta Valley Community Center. 

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“We just saw a need in our community and wanted to be able to fill that need,” said GUSD Food Services Director Kim Leung. 

With 40 percent of students in the district qualifying for free or reduced lunch, the shift to online instruction also led to an increased risk of food insecurity. So the school district applied for a waiver from the USDA that helped expand the program to serve anyone 18 and under, not just registered students. They’re now serving an average of 1,400 free meals per day, a number that has steadily grown over the past six weeks. 

Dylan Locker hands a bag of food to Isabella Vera at Isla Vista Elementary.

Participants can either walk up to distribution stations or use a curbside drive-through system, which allows people to receive meals without leaving their cars. The process is simple and quick: staffers ask how many meals are needed and then hand out pre-proportioned breakfast and lunch bags, as well as fresh produce and canned goods. 

Those who can’t access distribution sites are encouraged to reach out to their GUSD principal or email Leung directly for assistance. “If they can’t find a way to get there, we do have community liaisons and services that will find a way to get through to them,” said Leung.

While the school district has made minor adjustments to the menu to maintain quality and food safety, all meals are still being cooked from scratch with nutrition in mind. Meals served over the past two weeks include chicken Spanish rice bowls, pulled pork sandwiches with homemade BBQ sauce, and meatball pasta with a five-vegetable marinara sauce. 

The school district typically runs a minimal feeding program during the summer, but anticipates that COVID-19 will greatly increase the demand for food assistance. Most of the school district’s program funding ends in June — additional funding and resources are currently being located to continue the meal program at a similar capacity through the summer.

“We definitely want to ensure that no kids go hungry and that access to nutrition continues,” said Leung. “But it all comes down to what available resources we have.”

Interested in supporting the meal program? Monetary donations are currently being accepted by mail and Venmo. Checks can be addressed to “Goleta Union School District – Food Services” and sent to the school district office at 401 N. Fairview Ave., Goleta, CA 93117, attention to Food Services. Venmo donations can be sent to @GUSD-Food.

Those interested in donating food or volunteering during the summer can contact Kim Leung at kleung@goleta.k12.ca.us. Keep up with Goleta Union Food Services on Instagram via @gusdfood.


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