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How a traveling bus is meeting the needs of rural Valley towns this holiday

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Esther Quintanilla
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KVPR
The "Lunch and Learn" Bus made its first stop at Sunnyside Elementary School in Strathmore in Tulare County to distribute Thanksgiving meal boxes to families.

STRATHMORE, Calif. – As many prepare for Thanksgiving and the coming holidays, a “Lunch and Learn” bus is distributing healthy meals and school supplies to children in the San Joaquin Valley.

A blue bus with orange orchards painted on its side, is part of an effort by the organization Save the Children. It rolled up at Sunnyside Elementary School this week in the farmworker community of Strathmore in Tulare County.

The school’s district received a grant from Save the Children to bring resources to community members in the form of early learning materials, books and food resources. Part of that grant included funds to launch the traveling bus.

Over half of residents in Strathmore live below the poverty line. At Sunnyside Elementary, nearly half of the student body receives free or reduced lunches.

“As we know, a lot of the harvest season has passed, so a lot of people are in the off season where they're not getting full paychecks,” Victoria Rodriguez, a coordinator for the organization Save the Children, said.

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Esther Quintanilla
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KVPR
Parents at Sunnyside Elementary School received Thanksgiving meal kits with a whole chicken, canned goods, potatoes and a pumpkin pie.

Zumeila Avila, a mom of two children at the local school, and 40 other families received a Thanksgiving meal kit that included a whole chicken, potatoes, canned goods and a pumpkin pie.

“Right now, food is really expensive. I know this is going to help us a lot,” Avila said. She added, “It's not just odds and ends. No, it's a whole meal.”

The bus, nicknamed “Lucy” by the children, is set to visit schools in eight different districts in Tulare and Fresno counties. Rodriguez is hopeful the initiative will benefit the communities in more ways than one.

“This bus is here to stay. This bus is not going anywhere. It is the beginning of a lot of work here,” Rodriguez said. “Children who are hungry for food cannot be hungry for knowledge.”

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.