For the dozens of grinning children who ate a free lunch in the park in a Clifton neighborhood on Wednesday, it was a sunny picnic with friends on a summer day. The District 51 Nutrition Services staff responsible for the newest Lunch Lizard summer meal distribution know it’s something more significant.

Alysha Packard, nutrition services manager at Clifton Elementary School, said she was excited to see so many of the same kids she sees in school.

“A lot of kids in this area rely on the school for food during the year, and during the summer there’s that big gap and maybe they don’t get breakfast or maybe they don’t get lunch because mom and dad just can’t make it work. This is a big deal,” Packard said.

“Seeing the kids jump up and down when we pull up is fantastic. That’s the best part.”

The six stops in Clifton, new this year, are possible because of the new mobile meal van that transports food and volunteers to neighborhoods, many with high free-and-reduced lunch rates, according to the district.

The second van was purchased with donations from the Western Colorado Community Foundation, Alpine Bank, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, No Kid Hungry, The Grand Junction Lions Club, Independence Academy students and Colorado Mesa University business honors students.

Seven-year-old Ryaah said she liked the food and finished all of her lunch. Her mom, Sarah Hillewaert, said she was glad for the social outing and the nutritious meal.

“It’s nice, because that gives other kids who don’t have good family incomes something healthy to eat. It’s hard enough to come up with money to eat healthy anyway, just looking at the price of fruit and vegetables,” Hillewaert said. “It’s cheaper to buy a dollar hamburger at McDonald’s than to go and actually feed your kid healthy. It’s very sad.”

Margaret Taylor, manager at Candlewood Mobile Home Park, said she was thankful that the Lunch Lizard bus will stop in the neighborhood.

“Anything that brings the kids together and anything that helps families, we’re all for it,” Taylor said. “I can’t say enough how great this program is.”