For five weeks this summer, hundreds of Martha’s Vineyard children had a place to eat lunch for free. Stepping in for local school cafeterias that close in June, the Island’s first Summer Food Service Program served about 2,000 meals to an estimated 300 children on weekdays between June 10 and August 11, said Noli Taylor of Island Grown Schools, a key organizer of the pilot program.

“We met so many wonderful children and families and we learned so much,” Ms. Taylor said. “We’re really happy about it.”

Between 600 and 700 Island schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, and may be at risk of going hungry when no school lunch is available. The summer program aims to close that hunger gap with a free lunch served by volunteers five days a week.

A volunteer force of 135 people, from teenagers to at least one 90-year-old, prepared the food and staffed meal centers at the Boys & Girls Club in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs Public Library and Tisbury School, Ms. Taylor said.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sponsored the feeding program, offering both its cafeteria to ready the lunches and its staff to manage the heavy paperwork burden required to have meal costs reimbursed by the United States Department of Agriculture through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“Without the high school this would never have been possible,” Ms. Taylor said. “They were great partners.”

By contrast, Ms. Taylor said, working with the USDA has had significant drawbacks that will likely lead Vineyard organizers to seek funding from other sources for what they hope will be a longer and more widely available lunch service in 2018.

“What we want to do with the program is reach more kids for more of the summer,” she said.

The USDA has strict, census-based eligibility standards for where summer feeding programs can take place, and the government’s data doesn’t match up with Island realities. According to the USDA, most of the Vineyard — including Aquinnah, Edgartown and West Tisbury — is ruled out, although West Chop would be an acceptable spot for a free lunch center. As a result, Ms. Taylor said, “we weren’t able to meet all of the children we knew could benefit from having access to this food.”

Working with the federal government imposes other obstacles as well, Ms. Taylor said, including staff-intensive paperwork and an element of built-in waste that is worsened by a cultural disconnect between the USDA’s nutritional requirements and the way many children here actually eat.

“The federal rule is that every student drinks cold white milk at every lunch,” she said. “It’s the only way you can make a reimbursable meal.”

But at the Tisbury School lunch center, USDA-eligible because of the summer English Language Learner program there, volunteers discovered something they hadn’t known. “Brazilian kids don’t drink cold milk,” Ms. Taylor said.

With more than 90 per cent of the children in the ELL summer program hailing from Portuguese-speaking Brazilian families, the milk cartons had no takers, and there was no legal way to donate or use them elsewhere.

“You really can’t bend that rule, but it meant that we were throwing away carton after carton after carton of milk,” Ms. Taylor said. “We really don’t ever want to do that again.”

Speaking with the Gazette on Tuesday, Ms. Taylor said the financial accounting for this summer’s program is still being tabulated by staff at the high school and its food service contractor, Chartwells.

“At the first glance it looks like we weren’t too far off in our estimates,” she said. “Federal reimbursement won’t cover it all, but we didn’t expect it to. In six weeks, we should have a better sense of [future] sites and costs.”