Volunteer Alexia Castaneda is part of a team that helps prepare the “grab and go lunches” five days a week for distribution to community youth under age 18. Photo by Carol Broeder
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Miami’s meal program for youth and seniors continue through summer

The Town of Miami and Destiny School have teamed up to serve “grab and go” lunches to youth under the age of 18. The program began on March 18 with 35 lunches and, as of last week, the town now serves 145 lunches per day, according to Miami Community Services Coordinator Christine Duarte.

The meals are delivered each weekday morning at 10:45 a.m. to Miami Memorial Park, where they are put together and bagged. Each sack includes lunch plus breakfast for the next morning. 

Families drive up to the curb on Sullivan Street in a lane marked by orange cones, picking up the children’s meals between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

All told, the Town of Miami hands out about 725 grab and go lunches (per week) to youth within the community.

While it started early this year due to COVID-19, the summer lunch program is nothing new to Destiny School. Just ask its director, David McLendon, who said the school holds it every year in cooperation with the Globe Public Library and previously with the Cobre Valley Youth Club.

Duarte learned about Destiny’s program after becoming Miami’s new community services coordinator last year. Miami Senior Center employee Susan Hurtado mentioned that the town used to distribute lunches to youth in the community. The program later ended for reasons unknown, she said.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Duarte reached out to Destiny’s Cindy Cothrun, who later confirmed that Miami would be able to bring back its summer lunch program.
Weeks later, Cothrun contacted Duarte again, asking if the town would be interested in teaming up with Destiny to start the lunches early due to school closures in the wake of COVID-19.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Miami Community Services Coordinator Christine Duarte (foreground), volunteers and town staff assemble and bag “grab and go” lunches at Miami Memorial Park five days a week for distribution to community youth under age 18. Photo by Carol Broeder

McLendon said, “The National School Lunch Program is a good program–I think the federal government does a great job with it.  The only cost to our school is manpower, which is negligible.”
He explains that the school uses its own personnel and vehicles to deliver the meals to the distribution points in Miami, San Carlos and the Globe Public Library.

“We are very happy to do it,” McLendon said.

As a K-8 school, Destiny has a student population of about 335 students, more than 90 percent of which are eligible for free and reduced meals, McLendon said.

With funding from the federal program, Destiny is currently feeding nearly triple the number of children who normally attend its school, currently serving 980 lunches per day.

“How grateful we are to the Town of Miami, Globe Public Library and the San Carlos Apache Tribe for allowing us to do this,” said McLendon, adding that, while the reservation is closed due to COVID-19, Destiny is allowed to deliver meals to its distribution point. 

Destiny is always looking for “any other youth organizations” in the community that need help with a summer lunch program, he said.

For more information, call Destiny School at 928-425-0925.

Senior meals

Area seniors in both Gila and Pinal Counties will also continue to receive meals until the Miami Senior Center is able to re-open.

“The Town of Miami has also assured that many seniors–not only within the local community,  but also Pinal County–have not been left hungry,” said Duarte, explaining that the center serves about 55 senior citizens from Escudilla Drive throughout the town, as well as 48 seniors at Top of the World in neighboring Pinal County.

Calling seniors “extremely important” to the town, Duarte said the center will remain closed until it is deemed safe and that no seniors are at risk gathering there.

“We are looking forward to having the seniors back,” she said.

Taking pride in the center, town employees have been cleaning, painting and reorganizing while it is currently closed. They began a collection of painted rocks in front of the center and members of the surrounding community are welcome to add to it, Duarte said.

As of last week, the center provides about 721 meals per week to senior citizens.

Duarte thanked  town employees who “work long hours to assure the seniors within the community are fed.”

Since making distribution of both youth and senior meals a priority during COVID-19, the town had to reassign some employees “to assure these programs are run efficiently, as many within the community depend on these food programs,” she said.

The team includes staff with Miami Transit and the Miami Memorial Library, Duarte said.

Chief Operating Officer Ana Medina, with the Apache Junction-based Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens Area on Aging, arranged for the Army National Guard to deliver toilet paper, chlorine bleach and a five-day snack shelf to all senior centers throughout the two counties. 

The items were later delivered to all seniors participating in the COVID-19 meals on wheels program, Duarte said.

She offered thanks to all who make the program possible, including volunteers who help assemble and distribute the sack lunches, as well as local businesses and individuals who have contributed plastic bags and other supplies.

“All these people have made our programs a huge success,” Duarte said last week. “I am proud to say the little Town of Miami serves about 1,466 meals per week (total).”

“It’s a great feeling knowing the children and seniors are fed Monday through Friday by these programs,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on the faces of many as meals are being distributed and the excitement on the children’s faces as they look into their bags has been priceless.”

Any youth or seniors that need to be added to the program may call the Miami Senior Center at 928-473-4190 or the Miami Police Department at 928-473-2467.

“We would be happy to add members of the community to either program,” Duarte said.


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