Hundreds of Johnson County youngsters from low-income households rely on free lunches at school to get through the day. But when school lets out for the summer, many of them face the prospect of eating one less meal a day.

To counter that, several local school districts will again offer free lunches to children during the summer. Greenwood, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools all will offer free meals to all children under age 18. The school districts will have from one to six sites that serve meals during lunchtime on weekdays.

Under federal regulations, half of the student body must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in order for a school to offer free lunches in the summer.

Greenwood has offered the program for three years. Last summer, participation was so low — 20 or fewer children per day — that school officials were unsure if the program would continue. But Cheryl Hargis, the district’s food service director, said they would give it one more try this summer.

Hargis isn’t sure why families don’t take advantage of the free USDA-provided lunches at Northeast Elementary School, where the program was moved a few years ago. The school has Greenwood’s highest rate of families who qualify for lunch assistance — 74 percent last year. It is close to many homes, so children should be able to walk to the school for lunch.

Hargis would like to serve at least 30 or more children per day this summer. Officials have said schools need an average of at least 25 children a day in order to cover the cost of food and the staff members who serve it.

The future of the program will be determined after this summer, she said.

Other local school districts aren’t questioning whether to keep the summer food programs because they are well-attended. Food service directors have located sites near schools where the number of students who qualify for lunch assistance is highest in order to reach the families who would most depend on the meals.

Franklin’s sites will be Northwood Elementary School (both breakfast and lunch), Countryview Mobile Home Community, Traditions Apartments, Franklin Cove Apartments, Pennington Mobile Home Park and Northwood Apartments. Clark-Pleasant sites will be Break-O-Day and Pleasant Crossing elementary schools, Summerfield Park, Greenwood Estates and Village Crossing Apartments.

The success of these summer feeding programs depends on how many youngsters avail themselves of the free meals. So we urge parents to make arrangements for their children to eat at one of the sites if they can’t provide for them at home this summer.

And especially in the case of the Greenwood program, this could be a use-it-or-lose-it year.

At issue

Many youngsters from low-income households face the prospect of going without lunch during the summer.

Our point

School summer feeding programs seek to ease this problem but will succeed only if parents make arrangements for their children to take part.