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Editorial: Help keep school children fed during summer break

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When school lets out for the summer, many families struggle to feed their children three meals a day. Budgets already stretched thin are pulled even thinner with youngsters home.

To help combat this, local school districts are again offering free lunches through a federally funded program. And to increase the program’s impact, some of the local efforts are taking the meals out of the school and into the community in an attempt to serve more children.

In total last summer, the four participating school districts served more than 30,000 meals. Organizers would like to reach even more this summer.

If you go

Sawmill Woods Elementary School, 700 Sawmill Road, New Whiteland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Greenwood Estates playground, 1980 S. Meridian St., Greenwood, 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, 3030 N. County Road 125W, Whiteland, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Summerfield Park, 275 W. Worthsville Road, Greenwood, 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Village Crossing Apartments, 20 Village Crossing Drive South, Greenwood, 11 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

Northwood Elementary School, 965 Grizzly Cub Drive, Franklin, 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 1 p.m.

Northeast Elementary School, 99 Crestview Drive, Greenwood, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Greenwood school district is moving the program in the hope that it will bring in 100 children each day, compared with 30 last year.

Northeast Elementary School in Greenwood is typical of the area the program seeks to serve. Roughly 79 percent of the students at Northeast qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Those children likely need free summer meals because their parents either work and aren’t providing nutritious meals or the parents are unemployed and can’t afford groceries, according to Cheryl Hargis, the district’s food service director.

“You think the need’s there,” she said. “All you can do is try. Offer it to them. It’s up to them and the parents.”

In addition to feeding the body, some of the meal efforts seek to help the youngsters improve their reading skills.

Franklin is offering a summer reading program targeted at 50 children at Northwood Elementary School.

“It’s more structured than last year,” Principal Katie Crites said. “We’ll be able to monitor their growth and make sure they get what they need over the summer.”

Clark-Pleasant’s summer feeding site at Greenwood Estates will offer a two-hour reading program on Wednesdays after lunch. Two librarians from Johnson County Public Library will bring books that children with library cards can check out.

Molly Carrier, third-grade teacher at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, got an $800 grant to bring the library and a teacher to Greenwood Estates to promote reading.

While youngsters are on break, many low-income families also rely more heavily on food pantries; so it is vitally important that donations continue or even increase during the next two months.

During summer, many families struggle to feed children when they are out of school. School-affiliated, free-lunch programs help close this critical gap. And by taking the meals to where the kids live, the impact can be even greater. But families must take advantage of the opportunities for the programs to be effective.

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