Engaging Students to Design a School Food Truck – Marana, AZ

Project at a Glance

  • Issue Area Education and youth, Health equity, Social services
  • Engagement Approaches Youth Engagement
Project Description

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A Different Kind of Food Truck


As of November 2015, student eligibility for free or reduced lunches based on applications was approximately 2,000 students in the Marana Unified School District (MUSD) . Proper  nutrition greatly affects a child’s ability to concentrate and focus in school. MUSD identifies this as a key issue in providing a strong education for its students, maintaining rigorous standards, and, most importantly of all, caring for children and their general well-being. The problem was succinctly stated by MUSD Superintendent Dr. Doug Wilson, who acutely understands the problem and its solution:

“We recognize that nutrition and health are critical to a child’s ability to learn and be successful.”

MUSD employs several programs throughout the school year and during holiday breaks to ensure children are receiving adequate nutrition to foster the most positive learning experience possible. During the school year there are free and reduced lunches for students who qualify on-site at the various schools in Marana. The problem, however, is that students might not have access to the schools when school is out of session. This can be burdensome for the family due to the high costs of transportation in a rural community, financial capacity, time spent driving, and their relative proximity to the school site. In response to this important issue, MUSD created the Marana Cares Mobile.


To provide free food services to every child (18 and younger) in locations that have high densities of children who typically receive meal benefits during the school year.

Project Summary:

Seeking to address the gap in access to food for many students outside of the school year, the MUSD Superintendent introduced the idea of converting an old donated bus into a “mobile unit” dedicated to improving the health and nutrition of students. The-Marana Cares Mobile is a mobile unit that was originally designed to bring nutritious meals to under-served children in MUSD. As things evolved and more community partners began to get on board, the idea grew bigger in scope. What was once a simple concept of driving a bus to locations to feed MUSD students evolved into to something greater.

The final service is something quite extraordinary. The Marana Cares Mobile is a fully redesigned school bus from the ground up. After extensive modifications, the bus is now a mobile diner. Inside the bus there is 50’s diner-style seating, complete with beautiful counters to eat on, all with amazing window views.

Toward the rear of the bus, an area dedicated for health checkups has been fully integrated. This section of the bus allows MUSD staff to administer important general health checkups, sports physicals, and even vaccinations. The bus also has running water and web connectivity.

The outside of the bus is as beautiful as the inside. On one side, it features two drop-down counters where children can stand and eat, as well as an automatic drop down awning to provide
shade during the sunniest Arizona days. The bus is also handicap accessible with a fully dedicated hydraulic automatic lift, as well as air conditioning.

Engagement Strategies:

In order to make this happen, MUSD collaborated with several prominent partners from the community. Marana Health Center (MHC), RWC Buses, the Marana 2340 Foundation and the MUSD Career and Technical Education (CTE) program all contributed to help make this vision come true.

High school students from the CTE program had their chance for input and design of the bus. Students from multiple disciplines within the CTE program, including welding, healthcare, dental, and even culinary, all had input in the design. Kids were asked what they would want in a service like this, so that the design and function were as comprehensive and friendly as possible to the demographic it would serve. MUSD staff, working closely with RWC then took these suggestions and integrated them into the actual design of the bus.


In the end, the bus was transformed into a mobile diner and physician’s office fully equipped with running water and web connectivity. The physician’s office provides general health check-ups, sports physicals, and vaccinations. The bus is also handicap accessible with a fully dedicated hydraulic automatic lift, as well as air conditioning.

The Marana Cares Mobile began serving students in December 2015 and has served meals to approximately 5,484 students as of 3/30/18. MUSD and partners have begun plans for a second bus to include dental check-ups as well.

“To know at least for some of these kids they
didn’t have to worry about lunch for that day and to leave a smile on their face, and
that is what it is all about.” – Marana Cares Mobile Volunteer


Timeline of Project: Since 2015
Initiator: Marana Unified School District
Additional Resources:
Marana Cares Mobile Website
Local Contact:
Doug Wilson, Superintendent
Marana Unified School District
[email protected]

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