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Editorial: Expanded lunch programs in summer fill vital need

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A survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average income for families went down by $103 from 2012 to 2013, but their expenses went up by $777 a year.

The survey, released this month, also showed how far behind people in low-wage jobs are falling. Families in the lowest 20th percentile earned $10,174, but their average expenses were $22,336.

For low-income families, a common way to stretch their household budget is free and reduced-price lunches at schools. Many of the children from those families also eat breakfast at school. But when the school year ends, that means the end of regular, nutritious lunches.

To meet that need and to serve other children who might go without lunch during summer because no one is home to prepare it, local school districts are again offering summer feeding programs. Administrators also are working to move the programs closer to where families live in an attempt to feed more children.

Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools will continue to offer free meals to children this summer and have added eight sites in neighborhoods, such as apartment complexes. Greenwood will again offer free summer meals at Northeast Elementary School.

Last year, Northwood Elementary School was the only site in Franklin where kids could show up for a free meal without registering in advance. The new locations this year at Traditions Apartments, Franklin Cove Apartments and Countryview Mobile Home Community were added to serve those students who can’t easily walk to Northwood.

Franklin picked the neighborhoods based on areas that have a high percentage of children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and would have too far or too dangerous of a walk to Northwood, Franklin food service director Jill Overton said.

For example, about 82 students living in Traditions Apartments regularly ride the bus to school. The apartment complex, located on the east side of Franklin, is more than 2 miles away from Northwood, and students would have to travel along State Road 44 to get there.

Clark-Pleasant added sites this year at Greenwood Estates, Trotters Pointe, Beacon Pointe and Village Crossing Apartments. The school district selected those sites due to the large number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, along with concerns about getting them to a site at a school. For example, children in the Greenwood Estates mobile home community would have to walk along U.S. 31 to leave their neighborhood for a free meal.

Greenwood selected Northeast Elementary School because about 74 percent of the students there are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

In addition, summer youth programs, such as the one operated by the Franklin Boys and Girls Club, offer meals to participating children through the summer feeding program.

The school districts are seeking to serve the needs of disadvantaged students. The lunch programs help bridge an important gap. In addition, the children receive nutritionally balanced meals. Left on their own, the youngsters are likely to eat snacks or easily prepared processed meals that are high on convenience but low on nutrients.

But the lunch programs will succeed only if parents make sure the youngsters attend. Just having the school cafeterias open is not enough.

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