MANATEE — Young Ada Lozano glanced at her lunch plate and quickly finished off her popcorn chicken and applesauce.
Then came the hard part.
Using her fork, the 9-year-old Bradenton girl hesitantly scooped up some green beans and slowly lifted them to her mouth.
Ada shoveled the veggies in and swallowed.
She scrunched her face, then took a huge gulp of milk.
“I didn’t like them, but I ate them because they are good for me ... help me grow,” Ada said as she sat inside the cafeteria Tuesday afternoon at Daughtrey Elementary School off Ninth Street East.
Ada is one of the thousands benefiting from a federal Summer Food Service Program that provides free breakfast and lunch to children who are 18 or younger. The Manatee County School District is participating in the program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the U.S. Department of Education.
The program provides meals to children at 15 school sites, the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch and at G.T. Bray park.
It’s only for geographical areas of need where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced-priced meals during the school year.
The program also enables the district to employ some food service staff during the summer months when they would ordinarily be out of work.
Summer meals began Monday and are slated to run through Aug. 7, said school district food and nutrition service specialist Steve VanSprundel, who swung by Daughtrey on Tuesday to see how things were going.
During the week, Daughtrey’s workers anticipate feeding about 150 students for breakfast and lunch, said VanSprundel.
On Monday and Tuesday, about 130 showed up for the meals.
Across the district, about 4,310 meals will be served each day.
By the summer’s end, Van-Sprundel said that he anticipates serving 100,000 meals to children.
That’s about 200,000 pounds of food.
“The great thing about this, is we’re making sure kids get a nutritious meal,” VanSprundel said.
A district nutritionist, Sue Zanatta, prepares the menu, which includes fresh fruit and poultry that is low in fat.
Manatee County has participated in the program for about five years, VanSprundel said. But this is the first year that parents can eat with their children, said Daughtrey Principal Monica Hankerson. Those who want to purchase breakfast or lunch can do so for $3, Hankerson said.
“I wish they could eat for free, too,” she said. “But I think it’s a good deal.”
School sites are Daughtrey Elementary, Oneco Elementary, Palmetto Elementary, Prine Elementary, Horizons High School, Wakeland Elementary, Harllee Middle School, Samoset Elementary, Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary, Tillman Elementary, Lincoln Middle School, Palmetto High School, Miller Elementary School, Johnson Middle School and Manatee Elementary.
For other site locations and times, call the district at (941) 708-8770.