GREENSBORO — Standing in front of a big green food truck, Sadonna Cooper locked eyes on a young, tentative-looking child.
“What you want, doll?” Cooper asked.
“Um, cheeseburger,” the girl in the yellow “Rugrats” leotard and pink shorts replied.
She was among the hundreds of children this week who got a free meal at Guilford County Schools’ new food truck, dubbed “Frankie.”
This is Frankie’s first summer bringing meals to children in need in the community.
The school system purchased Frankie to help with its efforts to get meals to children and teenagers over the summer, said Wanda Barber, the school system’s summer nutrition coordinator. The school system has been taking food into various neighborhoods with vans since 2015, but this new truck helps out because it has refrigeration and warming devices.
Frankie was named by a school system dietitian in honor of a family member who believed strongly in serving children, Barber said.
School officials also came up with another use for Frankie during the school year — helping serve meals at the school system’s Middle Colleges. The schools, which are on college campuses, don’t have the usual cafeterias needed to serve school lunches. Frankie has been helping out with those since January and will continue once school resumes again later this month.
Frankie is visiting Smith Homes and Claremont Courts in Greensboro weekdays this summer through Aug. 16.
Frankie is at Smith Homes from 11:45 a.m. until 12:10 p.m. and at Claremont Courts from 12:35 p.m. until 1:10 p.m. It serves food to about 170 children a day.
On Tuesday, Mindy Young, the cafeteria manager, said she pulled up just a little late after a couple of children in the neighborhood flagged her down to get meals because they didn’t have any. It’s moments like that, or another time, seeing a young boy licking every speck from the inside of the container that held his beans, that suggest to Young and Cooper that some children might not get lunch without their help.
Cooper served as order taker Tuesday, stand in front of Frankie with her clipboard, calling up orders to Young and another staff member in the truck. Most of those orders were, “cheeseburger, chocolate” for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milk, although peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and non-flavored milk were also options.
Each child also got an apple, a plastic cup of broccoli and a box of vegetable juice.
It’s all free for anyone under 18, as well as to older students who participate in school programs and are mentally or physically disabled.
The federal government reimburses schools and other community organizations that provide the food over the summer, in typically lower-income areas, while schools are not in session. Meals are served at schools, community centers, camps and mobile feeding sites. Without transportation, many children that could benefit simply don’t make it to the existing feeding sites, school nutrition staff said.
Meals are supposed to go to children who are physically present — but sometimes the staff finds it hard to say no.
On Tuesday, Young relented after an involved discussion, and gave lunches to two people to take to their children on the condition they bring the children along next time. But with the next couple of people who said the same she was firmer, explaining the rule and insisting the children must be present. At least one person said he would go get his child and come back.
“You’ve got a fine line sometimes,” she said.
A couple of the women who brought children to the truck spoke in favor of the program.
“It’s a blessing that they can do things like this,” said Pam Lane, who accompanied a young boy to get his meal.
As Cooper hands the food over to the children, she says such things as “There you go, baby — you have a good day.”
“I love it; I love the kids,” Cooper said.
“I love being busy and I like to see those smiles on the faces.”