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Bus turned lunchroom making rounds in Butler County

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Lakota Schools' new program buses lunches to needy kids.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Lakota Schools program delivers food to students in need.

Single mother Christina Staples’ three children know a yellow school bus in their apartment parking lot means it’s lunch time.

But for Staples — and thousands of other low-income parents participating in Lakota Schools’ new busing food program — the food-laden bus is a nutritional and financial lifeline for their children.

For the first time, the Butler County school district is experimenting with a summer-time, mobile lunch program for children already eligible and using the district's free and reduced lunch program during the school year.

The food — hot and cold lunches — are bused out each weekday to where the students are — in this case the Meadow Ridge Apartments off of Muhlhauser Road.

“It’s very convenient,” said Staples, who is putting herself through college. “It helps out financially and I know they have someplace to lunch each day. It’s very nutritional for them and it gives me more study time.”

Lakota nutrition program officials say in many low-income families, both parents or a single parent works and are not around during the lunch hours to provide food for youngsters and teens.

Of Lakota’s 16,500 students, more than 3,500 families qualify for the $147,000 federally subsidized program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lakota officials estimate the mobile lunch program will hand out more than 200,000 meals during the 58 days schools will be closed during the summer.

Adult and teen volunteers help distribute the food from specially modified school buses at seven stops in various West Chester and Liberty Twp. communities that have the highest concentrations of low-income school children.

Kelly Crumb, child nutrition assistant director for Lakota rides the bus each day and said, “the program is going great and the students and parents are very happy.”

“We have a variety of food choices for them and it’s going well,” said Crumb, who added the lack of rainy weather since the program started in late May has helped participation.

“The kids have to eat the food on site to make sure they are consuming the food themselves and not taking it home,” Crumb said Tuesday as she looked over more than a dozen children eating their lunches on blankets spread about in a grassy area next to the parking lot.

Since the 2008-2009 school year, when 2,647 students participated in the free and reduced school meal program, school officials have seen more than a 29 percent increase in such students to this school year’s total of 3,417.

“The numbers participating are increasing. Each day we are getting new customers coming in,” Crumb said.

Interested parents can call Lakota’s child nutrition office at 513-644-1163 or visit lakotaonline.com and click on “departments” and then “child nutrition.”