SANTA ANA, Calif. — When money is tight, and food is short, 10-year-old Daniel Mascorro isn’t picky.
“A lot of meals in stores are expensive, and these meals are free, so I feel good about these meals,” Daniel said.
Daniel is one of more than 45,000 students and their families who have been helped by the Santa Ana Unified School District’s meal program. The fifth grader is the youngest of three children in his family and attends Martin Elementary School in Santa Ana.
While he is learning remotely, Mascorro returns to campus a few times per week with his mother to pick up free meals for him and his siblings.
“It can help her save money, pay bills, pay anything for us,” he said.
Daniel's dad is a car mechanic, while his mom is a baker who specializes in making cakes for special occasions — but business has been slow. With less money coming in, there have been times when he has missed meals, Daniel explained.
“It was a little difficult to pay attention to school and to what my teacher was saying because I was listening to my stomach,” he said.
According to the Santa Ana Unified School District, nearly 85% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Regardless if they are eligible, the district offers free meals to all students.
Peter Richardson, Daniel’s school principal, said he was afraid that his students would face hunger at the start of the shutdown if they weren’t on campus. With assistance from the SAUSD school board and district leaders, Richardson was able to invite families like Daniel's to pick up free breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks for every day of the week.
"Many of our families are in the service sector, and they might be the first people who will lose jobs once social distancing happens," Richardson said. "So it was just me connecting dots and me thinking, how are we going to get kids fed?"
Fortunately, district leaders such as SAUSD Nutrition Services Director Josh Goddard went into planning mode. As a result, the district created a meal service that would allow parents to pick up meals at times that worked for them.
"It really calls out the empathy and the love, the compassion that everybody embodies here," Goddard said. "It’s so important to hear Daniel’s story. He is ultimately what this is all about, why we’re here."
Goddard also credits the help of folks who work behind the scenes in the kitchens, lunchtime employees and delivery truck drivers. Since March 2020, the district has served 7 million meals to the community.
“I don’t have to worry about buying food, and we don’t have food, and worry about it. I can always just pay attention,” Daniel said.
While his mother’s cooking is his favorite, Daniel said he is thankful to have free meals to keep him energized for school and help his family make ends meet.