SUN Bucks program aims to promote students’ access to healthy summer meals

CESD food truck line
Last summer, the Centralia Elementary School District served over 21,700 free nutritious meals, with 4,300 delivered via the district’s mobile food truck. (Courtesy of Centralia Elementary School District)

About five million children who receive free or reduced-price school meals will be automatically enrolled to receive SUN Bucks, a new initiative that aims to support families with access to nutritious meals when schools are closed this summer. 

Administered by the California Department of Social Services in collaboration with the California Department of Education, the SUN Bucks program offers $40 per child per month for June, July and August, totaling $120 over the summer.

Similar to CalFresh, SUN Bucks extends support beyond the academic year. Eligible children automatically receive benefits if they qualify for free or reduced-price school meals or receive assistance from programs such as CalFresh, CalWORKs or Medi-Cal.

SUN Bucks summer meals program logo

“Combating child hunger truly takes a village, and SUN Bucks will play a critical role in helping close the food and nutrition insecurity gaps that many of our Orange County families face,” Dareen Khatib, OCDE’s administrator of health, safety and prevention programs, said. “This will support our dedicated districts who continue to offer summer meals at many of their schools to ensure students are nourished in the summer months.”

“The collective effort to increase access to nutritious meals is not only directly linked to the healthy growth and development of children and youth, but also to their learning and academic achievement.”

Enrollment is automatic for most eligible children, including those aged 6 through 18 already receiving assistance from these programs, as well as students in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. Additionally, children experiencing homelessness, living in foster care or part of migrant families are also eligible.

Families with children not previously determined eligible for free or reduced-price meals can request an application or Alternative Income Form from their child’s school to determine eligibility.

SUN Bucks aligns with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to combat summer hunger, providing opportunities to address child summer hunger through expanded options for summer nutrition programs.

The USDA created the Meals for Kids Site Finder in 2019 to help families find locations, times and menus of free meals during the summer. The mapping tool allows users to enter an address, city, state or ZIP code to find up to 50 nearby locations, along with their addresses, hours of operation and contact information.

Additionally, the state Department of Education created the 2024 Summer Meals Service Sites webpage to provide parents and referral agencies with a list of locations where children may receive free nutritious meals during school vacation or off-track periods.

For more information regarding SUN Bucks, visit the California Department of Social Services’ webpage.