The total number of meals served to kids by local schools in Johnson County was down this summer, and officials aren’t sure why.
Every summer, free lunches are offered in locations in the Greenwood, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant school districts. The school’s costs for the meals are reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through a program that offers summer feeding assistance to schools where at least half of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.
School food service directors say the program is a vital one, providing a meal that some students otherwise would not get.
The number of meals served in Franklin increased this year. But the county-wide total is down, with the Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood school districts both having a drop of 10 percent in the number of meals served to children who came to receive free lunches this summer.
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Food services directors said the need for these meals isn’t dropping, and they are wondering why fewer children came to get them. Possible reasons could include the heavy amounts of rain as well as Independence Day falling in the middle of the week, meaning fewer families were around for meals around the Fourth of July.
But they also want to take a closer look at their programs to see if anything needs to change.
“We need to evaluate the times we serve, look at the menu, do some evaluation on data to see if we need to make a change for next summer,” Clark-Pleasant Schools food services director Kim Combs said.
Because the school year has just begun, they’ve not checked yet to see if there have been any changes in the number of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch in the school district, she said.
Even with the drop, the program still served more than 9,000 lunches from May 31 through July 14, Combs said.
Franklin Food services director Jill Overton attributed the increase in meals served in her school district to a better job of advertising the free service, as well as a rise in the number of kids coming to eat breakfast.
While the economy is recovering, many families still need assistance, she said.
“I believe that there are individuals that, even though they are working, they could still use the help so they take advantage of the summer feeding program, which is great,” Overton said.
Clark-Pleasant and Franklin both operated six locations this summer, while Greenwood served meals at Isom Elementary School. Clark-Pleasant added a sixth site in 2016, but didn’t increase the number of sites this year. Franklin also added an extra site in 2015.
Franklin may consider changing a couple its sites that had lower attendance and is looking at Payne Park as a possible location for 2018, Overton said.
A trio of school districts in Johnson County offer free meals to students during the summer break. Here’s a look at how many meals they served this summer: