FREE WHEELING LUNCHES: Aurora Public Schools takes free summer meals to kids and families who need them

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Salina Sanchez gives free lunches to Damien Chavez, right, and Umar Kotroo, June 6 at Wheel Park. Both are students at DPS.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | It turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch, and it rolls in for needy Aurora kids through the end of the month.

Through June 28,  Aurora Public Schools is offering a new way for taking advantage of the district’s Free Summer Food Service Program with their mobile cafe’s.

In addition to regular summer School Cafe sites, three modified school buses tour Aurora every day, arriving at designated spots, varying from city parks to APS school campuses, according to APS officials.

The mobile cafes offer hot and cold meal options, such as pizza and corndogs or a variety of sandwiches. Fruits and veggies are served with meals, too.

Technically, these mobile cafe’s aren’t food trucks, as there is no food actually prepared in the buses. The warm meals and produce are prepared every morning before the buses roll. What they do have are large coolers for the cold items and a large hot box, keeping the warm food at regulated temperatures.

Salina Sanchez, kitchen manager at Aurora Frontier P-8, drives the watermelon themed mobile cafe for Aurora Public Schools Free Summer Food Service Program.
Portrait by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Residents 18 and under can leave the wallet at home. Lunch is on APS. For those older than 18, the lunches cost $3.90. For the early birds who happen to pop into one of the schools that offer breakfast, it’s $2.20 for those who aren’t eligible for the free meal.

School officials say the best part about this program is that it is for everyone, APS student or not.

“If you come, you get a meal,” said Corey Christiansen, spokesman for APS.

In just the first couple of weeks, the Nutritional Services Department at APS has already seen a spike in meals served and attributes the increase to the new Mobile Cafe buses. Nutritional Services expects that during the month of June, 11,000 free breakfasts and 33,000 free lunches will be served.

Each of the buses was hand painted by students from Aurora Central High School. The district held a contest, and ACHS artists were the winners. One truck is painted as a watermelon . One is painted around the idea of pink lemonade, and the third is called “Taste the Rainbow.” The brightly colored school buses easily catch the eye.

Salina Sanchez, top, hands a bottle of water to Nancy Carrillo, 9, right, to accompany the lunches, her and her sister, Naomy, 2, received, June 10 at Dalton Elementary. As part of the Free Summer Lunch Program, put on by Aurora Public Schools, children 18 and younger are eligible for a free lunch from APS, served at one of the schools in the district, or from one of the new mobile cafe’s that travel around the metro area daily. The mobile cafe program ends June 28th. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Transportation can be a barrier for some families, especially during the summer, when the school buses aren’t running, so having these mobile options really make a difference when it comes to taking advantage of the Free Summer Food Service Program, school officials said.  

Angelica Ramirez has brought her kids to the watermelon bus at the Dalton Elementary School stop three times this summer.

Ramirez said the Free Summer Food Service program helps with keeping her kids eating habits consistent and similar to their eating schedules while attending school during the school year.

Encouraged by the immediate popularity of these mobile cafe’s, APS is evaluating whether it will be possible to continue the mobile cafe service past the current June 28th end date and into July.

In the meantime, the Summer Food Service Program will continue into July at two school sites, Mosley P-8 and North Middle School, until July 18 and July 26, respectively.  

Salina Sanchez, right, speaks to Diana Juarez and her children, who came to Wheel Park for a second day in a row, June 6 at Wheel Park. Sanchez has seen many repeat customers since the mobile cafe’s took to the streets on May 28.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Already building a reputation for themselves, these technicolor chuck wagons are seeing repeat customers.

While set up at the last of the four stops she goes to during the weekdays, Salina Sanchez, kitchen manager at Aurora Frontier P-8 school, says she has some customers who have walked up to half an hour just for the free meal, and more than once.

And she has developed quite a fan club for herself as well. Parents have asked her route, driving the mobile cafe. “They’ll follow me,” Sanchez laughed. Parents have brought her flowers and other gifts as well.

Sanchez has been working during summer school, providing free lunches for almost 10 years.

“I just do it because I like the kids.”