Volunteer Kari Barney helps serve free lunches on the Marana Cares Mobile.
When summer arrives, kids in low-income neighborhoods won't have to worry about what to eat for lunch. The Marana Cares Mobile, a repurposed school bus that has been retrofitted as a full diner, will be stopping by to serve free, healthy lunches to all children under the age of 18.
Hundreds of children who attend Marana schools depend on their cafeterias for lunch every day. However, when they’re on vacation, it can be challenging to figure out how to get those meals. Though many schools still offer lunches during breaks, it can still be difficult for the students to get to school. Now, the cafeteria can come to them.
Marana Unified began distributing meals from Marana Cares Mobile during Thanksgiving break in 2015. Harnessing the power of the food truck movement, this chic ‘50s diner on wheels made a dozen stops during the winter break. They’ve already handed out almost 100 meals to Marana kids, and every day, the number showing up for a tasty bite is growing.
Kari Barney works as a site supervisor for food services at Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary School, and has volunteered to help staff the bus as it makes the rounds. “I love working with the kids, and this is a great opportunity for me to help out. What’s really great is seeing the same kids come back day after day. I know they need the meal, and I’m so happy it’s becoming part of their routine.”
Beyond simply providing a crucial meal, the staff at MUSD are particularly proud of the quality of food they’re distributing. “We’ve got chicken sandwiches, PB and J’s, fruits, and veggies. We’ve got chicken nuggets, too, but these are much healthier than anything you’ll find at McDonalds,” says Russ Federico, Executive Director of Operations at MUSD.
Back in March 2015, this project was just an idea which quickly received widespread support. Whenever MUSD retires an old school bus, it sells it at auction, typically receiving around $2,000. When this bus reached that point, though, the auto shop mechanics for MUSD realized that it would be a strong candidate for Marana Cares Mobile.
“Most of our buses have an AC that runs off the engine,” explains Federico, “but this one has a separate generator. That means that we can continue to run the AC, even when the engine is turned off. When we’re distributing meals in the summer, that’s going to be an incredibly important feature.”
Once the district identified this bus as a strong candidate for its project, it worked with RWC International, from whom MUSD purchases many of its buses. In its reconstruction of the bus, RWC added a gray water system, a side door with lift, an awning on the outside, and sleek chrome stools inside.
Since the bus first hit the streets, the community response has been resoundingly positive. From a front page story on the Arizona Daily Star to coverage from local TV news outlets, it appears that hungry kids aren’t the only ones excited about this new addition to the district’s fleet.
With interest growing rapidly, the district anticipates that soon, one bus won’t be enough to meet demand. With that in mind, another bus is already in the works which will offer even more services. The second bus will be outfitted with help from the welding program at Marana High School, which is part of the district’s larger Career and Technical Education efforts. It will also include space for a mobile dental clinic in the back. That area will be designed with help from the CTE students who work in the dental offices of the Marana Health Center.
Marana Cares Mobile is just one of the many creative ways in which MUSD is working hard throughout the year to make sure that its students are not just getting the education they deserve, but getting opportunities both in and out of school to learn, grow, and prosper. “Inspiring students to learn today and lead tomorrow,” reads the slogan on the front of the bus. Through this initiative, the district not only leads with a powerful message, but indeed, leads by example. For more information, visit http://www.maranausd.org/mcm.