Colorado School District Rolls Out Retired School Buses to Deliver Summer Meals

Aurora Public Schools in Colorado re-purposed three of their school buses to be used as mobile cafes over the summer.
Aurora Public Schools in Colorado repurposed three recently retired school buses to be used as mobile cafes over the summer.

Aurora Public Schools in Colorado is sponsoring a U.S. Department of Agriculture program to provide breakfast and lunch this summer to children under 18, and the district is using retired school buses to deliver the meals.

The Summer Food Service Program is a federally funded and state-administered program that reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas. Two-thirds of Aurora students receive free or reduced lunch.

“That’s for a district of almost 40,000 students,” said school district spokesman Corey Christiansen. “So, there certainly is a need for students and families to still have that nutrition throughout the summer months. And like [Bennett] mentioned, we just want to make sure that we are providing access to our students and families to be able to get that nutrition that they need.”

Aurora’s Summer Food Service Program for 2019 started on May 28. The meals are provided free of charge to students under 18, but adults may also purchase meals at a reduced price.

While the district has been providing free meals over the summer since 2008, this is the first year they are offering a food truck mobile sites, to bring the food to children who don’t have the resources to get to school.

“The idea originated after we wanted to create mobile sites, and a couple of years ago we tried using one of our transportation trucks to convert into a mobile site, but it just wasn’t doing well, and we wanted something that would catch a little more attention,” said Stacey Bennett, the district’s menu and special programs coordinator. “The purpose is to take the food to where the students are for our Summer Food Service Program. Sometimes transportation can be a barrier, so we wanted to try to take away that barrier and give kids access to nutrition over the summer.”

School cafeterias offer breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday at select locations. The mobile food truck is offered Monday through Friday at select sites, as well, but it only serves lunch. The three mobile cafes will each stop at four sites.

The district plans to serve around 11,000 breakfasts and 33,000 lunches throughout the course of the summer.



Food Service Mobile Sites use School Buses, Mobile Cafes 

The conversation to repurpose school buses started around winter break; however, the actual refurbishment only took about a week to do.

The transportation department recently removed three buses from service as a part of its 15-year or 150,000-mile replacement plan. Instead of putting these buses up for public auction, like the district normally does, it decided to re-purpose the vehicles to meet the needs of the nutrition program, Director of Transportation Shawn Smith said.

To start the process, the nutrition department held an art competition for any high school art student across the district. It asked the students to submit proposals for school bus designs.

The top three proposals came from Central High School, and each bus has a different theme that the high schoolers painted: Pink lemonade, Watermelon and Taste the Rainbow.

“Once the high school students were done with the paint job on these buses, the buses were brought back to the shop and then it took about a week to get the project completed,” Fleet Manager Omar Espinal said. “So, [the fleet technicians] stayed after their shifts or they would come in on a Saturday and work on the buses.”

The three buses have a combined average of 50,000 miles on the odometer, but were converted to mobile cafes because they reached their 15-year life span.

The nutrition services department will be able to use these buses for years to come. The buses will not be reconverted back to transporting students, but instead permanently assigned to the nutrition services department.

“The expectation is that these buses will be able to serve in this program for several years going forward,” Christiansen said. “We don’t have an exact estimate for how long they will be there, but they still have quite a bit of life left in them, as far as being able to serve this purpose. They, again, were taken out of service as far as transporting students, but we really feel like we are able to get some great use of out of these buses going forward for the district.”

The transportation department did all of the refurbishment work in-house. On top of removing seats and installing tracks to ease the loading and securement of boxes, Espinal said staff also installed inverters to supply power to for cooking equipment, as well as portable heating and cooling units. Technicians also added a portable hand-washing station.

The nutrition services department is responsible for all of the project’s finances and is currently providing the staff members who have been trained and authorized to drive the buses.

While the mobile cafes have only been in use a couple of days, Bennett said she is already hearing very positive feedback.

For more information on where the sites are located and the days, visit the APS Free Summer Food Service Program.

Photos courtesy of Aurora Public Schools Nutrition Services.