Veronica Diaz squirts mayonnaise on her son Victor's sandwich during a free summer lunch at Washington Elementary School on June 18, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Veronica Diaz remembers eating summer lunches at Four Corners Elementary School when she was a kid in Salem.

It was a chance for her and her mother to get out of the house, and for Diaz to enjoy a sandwich.

Now, she takes her children, Rocio and Victor Garcia, to Washington Elementary, which saves her the trouble of putting something together.

"I don't have to make them lunch - I just bring them here," she said.

Lead cook Diane Evans serves lunch at Washington Elementary School on June 18, 2019 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

June 18 was the second day of Salem's summer free lunch program, which offers free meals to any child 18 or younger at more than a dozen schools and community centers around the city.

The week got off to a slow start, said Diane Evans, the lead cook, who was serving sandwiches, cheesy breadsticks, milk, fruit and vegetables at Washington. Just two kids showed up on the first day.

Last year, workers served about 500 people per day at Salem's free lunch sites in June, and 760 people per day in July.

Veronica Diaz helps her son Victor Garcia pick fruit and vegetables for lunch at Washington Elementary School (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

When Evans opened the cafeteria doors at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Diaz and her kids were waiting outside, along with three other children. Over the half-hour Evans served food, about 10 people trickled in.

There's no registration, identification or proof of income required - any child or teen is welcome to come and eat.

Evans said she enjoys knowing she's helping kids stay fed during the summer, when free school lunches aren't available.

"I just love the community," she said.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Free meals are available for all kids ages 1-18 at the following school district sites from 11:30 a.m. to noon through August 27:

Auburn Elementary

Eyre Elementary

FACES Family Daycare Literacy & Resource Center

Grant Elementary

Highland Elementary

Kennedy Elementary

KROC Center

Richmond Elementary

Stephens Middle School

Washington Elementary

Wright Elementary

These Salem-area Boys and Girls clubs will also have free summer lunches:

Keizer Boys & Girls Club

Knudson Boys & Girls Club

Swegle Boys & Girls Club

West Salem Boys & Girls Club

To find meal sites, text “FOOD” to 877877 or call 1-866-348-6479, or visit www.summerfoodoregon.org. More information is available on the Salem-Keizer School District website.

Have a tip? Reporter Rachel Alexander: rachel@salemreporter.com or 503-575-1241.

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