After school is done for the year, Creekside Elementary School cafeteria workers Cindy Gilbert and Sonia Diveto still think about their students.
But through an annual program hosted by three local school districts, they at least know they are getting fed.
Both women work over the summer, bringing lunches to the neighborhoods of some of their students through Franklin Community Schools’ summer feeding program. On Wednesday, they served free meals to 22 children at Countryview Mobile Home Community in Franklin from the back of a school cargo van. The federally funded program allows children to receive free lunches during summer break.
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“Without the school districts, some of these kids may not even have a lunch,” Diveto said. “This may be the only meal they eat today.”
Summer Servings is one of three programs in Johnson County that started this week. Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools also serve free summer lunches to students in need.
Local schools expect to serve hundreds of meals this summer. In the weeks leading up to summer break, schools called families they thought could benefit from the program, put up signs at schools, feeding sites and apartment complexes, and sent information home with students to get the word out about the free meals.
So far this summer, the number of kids coming to eat each day is up slightly at some of the feeding sites. Those numbers are important because schools need to feed a certain number of children per day in order to cover the cost of food and staff.
Franklin serves meals at Northwood Elementary School and in neighborhoods where the students with the most need for free lunches live. To reach more families, two neighborhoods were added this year, Northwood Apartments and Pennington Mobile Home Park, bringing the total to six sites.
Franklin Community Schools food service director Jill Overton and her staff have been working to get the word out to as many families as possible about the program. They sent information home with students before school let out, called parents and posted fliers, yard signs and banners around the food service sites. They’ve also encouraged promotion by word of mouth.
And it’s paying off. By the end of the day Wednesday, the staff fed a total of 229 youngsters at the sites.
“I’ve never been to that point where we have too many children to feed,” Overton said. “I know we could absolutely feed more kids than we’re feeding now without any difficulty.”
Even Greenwood schools’ lone summer feeding site at Northeast Elementary School — which has always had trouble drawing people — has had a jump in numbers in its first week. In previous years, they often had trouble bringing in more than 10 children daily and talked several times of discontinuing the program. However, they fed 39 on Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday.
Greenwood food service director Cheryl Hargis is thankful for the good first week and would love to see steady high numbers for the rest of the summer.
“We’ve already had a better start than ever this year, so I’ve got nothing to complain about,” Hargis said. “I just hope the totals balance out for us down the road. We’ve gotten very positive feedback from the families, though.”
Franklin and Greenwood started their programs on Monday. Clark-Pleasant Community School Corp. started on Wednesday this year. This year, the district has six sites, including a new Greenwood site — St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church.
Clark-Pleasant worked with Greenwood schools and the state to open the feeding site, which is in the Greenwood school district.
“We just thought we would try to help Greenwood Community Schools reach more people,” said Kim Combs, Clark-Pleasant food service director.
The first day at St. Mary of Egypt was slow and drew only four students. Promotion of the summer meal program has been a challenge, since the site is outside of the Clark-Pleasant district, Combs said. Within Clark-Pleasant schools, the food service staff was able to call parents, send fliers home, put up yard signs and post information on the school district website. At the Greenwood site, all they can use are the fliers and yard signs.
The first week usually starts out slow for Franklin and Clark-Pleasant but then picks up considerably. Both had daily totals of lunches served in the 200s this week. Last summer, Franklin averaged 430 lunches served per day, and Clark-Pleasant averaged 450.
“I think even if we start out a little slow, people will start coming; and through word of mouth, our numbers will continue to get larger,” Combs said.
For the workers, the summer program is a chance to continue seeing the kids they work with all school year.
“You get attached to the kids throughout the year,” Diveto says. “And then, the summer comes and you stop seeing them every day. You miss them.”
At the Franklin neighborhood sites, food is served from the back of a school cargo van or box truck, and the children find a spot to sit down and eat nearby. The kids talk to the workers, who remember their names and want to know what they’ve been up to since school let out.
“Every day, the kids and parents say ‘Thank you, guys, for doing this,’” Gilbert said. “And I get to see a lot of my students. Some of them even run up and give me hugs. It just makes you feel good.”
Three Johnson County school districts are offering free lunches this summer. All meals must be eaten at one of the locations listed below, and registration is not required. Adults can eat, too, for a small fee.
Dates: Weekdays through July 24 (Closed July 3)
- Northeast Elementary School, 99 Crestview Drive, 11 a.m. to noon
Dates: Weekdays through July 17 (Closed July 3)
- Break-O-Day Elementary School, 900 Sawmill Road, New Whiteland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
- Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, 3030 N. County Road 125W, Whiteland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
- Summerfield Park, 275 W. Worthsville Road, Greenwood, 1 to 1:30 p.m.
- Greenwood Estates playground, 1598 U.S. 31 South, 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
- Village Crossing Apartments playground, 20 Village Crossing Drive South, Greenwood, 11 to 11:15 a.m.
- St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church, 102 E. Broadway St., Greenwood, 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Dates: Weekdays through July 31 (Closed July 3)
- Northwood Elementary School, 965 Grizzly Cub Drive, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- Countryview Mobile Home Community (near the playground), 11:30 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
- Traditions Apartments clubhouse, 1600 Traditions Court, Franklin, 11:20 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
- Franklin Cove Apartments clubhouse, 2015 Franklin Cove Court, 11:55 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
- Pennington Mobile Home Park, 3090 N. Morton St., No. 190, Franklin, 12 p.m. to 12:20 p.m.
- Northwood Apartments, 2018 Cedar Lane, Franklin, 12:25 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.