The Cruisin' Cafe is back this summer — with a goal of feeding even more hungry kids.
Started last summer by the Hernando County School District's food and nutrition program, the Cruisin' Cafe is a brightly colored, repurposed school bus that aims to reach youngsters who otherwise might not be able to get a healthy meal.
In its first year, the bus provided 2,265 meals.
"Overall, the program went well," said Lori Drenth, food and nutrition services director for the district. "This year, we expect to feed more meals."
The bus, which began operating earlier this month, travels each workday to two locations to provide free meals to anyone between the ages of 2 and 18.
This year's program is a bit different from last year's, which included four sites.
"We learned a little about what works and what doesn't and refined our program this year to hopefully better accommodate the eating patterns of children during the summer," Drenth said.
She said participation at the Northside Baptist Church/Da-Mac and Pioneer Park sites was low. This year, the staff will concentrate on providing meals at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill and Frederick Kelly Elks Lodge 1270 in south Brooksville, which had strong participation last summer.
"We expect similar participation this summer at those sites each day," Drenth said.
The Cruisin' Cafe came out of a need to reach more students.
With parents struggling financially during the recession, participation in typical summer programs has dwindled in recent years. Since the district was feeding many kids through those programs, that meant fewer children were getting proper meals.
The bus was seen as a good way to bring nutritious food to students in a manner that wouldn't put any additional burden on families.
Danny Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.