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Greenwood summer food numbers dip; other school districts’ climb

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An annual program that feeds children lunch in the summer equals a savings of about $200 for one Franklin mom.

For Ruth Scott, a mother of four, that money can instead go to pay her rent, utilities and other bills — a big help for the single mother looking for work as a massage therapist.

“Just being able to come for the lunch meal when I pick up the boys, it really helps with the budget,” Scott said.

Each day when she picks up sons Isaiah and David from summer school, Scott takes them to the Northwood Elementary School cafeteria for lunch before they head home. The program, which is federally funded, also allows her son John, who isn’t taking summer classes, to eat.

About 120 children per day are coming to Northwood in Franklin for meals this summer, up slightly from last year. Another 10 to 20 children per day are getting lunch from sites set up in three Franklin neighborhoods, food service director Jill Overton said. She wasn’t sure how many to expect at the three neighborhood sites because this is the first year, but she’s hopeful the number of children getting meals each day will rise as word about the new sites spreads, she said.

Clark-Pleasant, which had five summer food sites last year, added three more this year. Earlier this month, the eight sites served a total of 513 children in a single day, which was a record for the school district, food service director Kim Combs said.

Both school districts added sites to ensure that more families who are struggling to afford meals for their kids can get help, Combs and Overton said.

About 45 percent of Clark-Pleasant’s students received free and reduced-price lunches last year, and about 43 percent of students at Franklin schools were enrolled in the program. That means those students’ families were at or near the poverty line.

“I felt it was doubly important to try to reach some of the other parts of Franklin,” Overton said.

Anyone 18 and under can receive free meals from the school districts’ summer food sites. School districts are reimbursed by the federal government for the costs of the food and employees based on the number of meals they serve. School officials have continually tried to make families aware of the sites because when more children come to eat, the district gets more in reimbursement.

Crystal Bringham brought daughters Meah and Madison and niece McKenzie for lunch at Northwood on Wednesday. Being able to stop at the school for lunch helps Bringham keep her kids fed between dance and gymnastics practices and gives her one less task to manage while she’s watching her niece.

“We’re baby-sitting, and I forgot what it was like to cook with a toddler,” she said.

Franklin had a grant that helped cover the cost of transporting kids to Northwood for the past three summers, but this year the school district doesn’t have money to pay for a bus. Adding three sites in neighborhoods throughout the city helps ensure that more students who need meals during the day receive them, Overton said.

Clark-Pleasant has sites at Break-O-Day and Pleasant Crossing elementary schools and six others in neighborhoods. Between 40 and 240 kids go to the elementary schools each day for meals, up slightly from last year, and between 40 and 100 kids go each day to the three neighborhood sites that Clark-Pleasant ran last year, which is about what was expected, Combs said.

Some days, no one shows up for lunch at Clark-Pleasant’s three new sites, and other days between 10 and 30 children come to eat. Combs wants to continue running all eight sites next summer to give people more time to learn about the sites.

“We’ve had a hard time getting the word out, and the weather is not helping at all,” Combs said. “But we’re not giving up on those.”

But not all school districts have had enough children coming to eat.

So far this summer, an average of 17 children are going to Northeast Elementary School each day for a free lunch, Greenwood food service director Cheryl Hargis said. Greenwood needs an average of at least 25 children coming to eat each day in order to cover the cost of food and the staff that serves it, Hargis said.

About 46 percent of Greenwood’s students received free or reduced-price lunches last school year, and that includes 73 percent of the students at Northeast. Those rates prove to Hargis that Greenwood students need the free meals, but she’s not sure why more aren’t arriving for lunch each day. The number of students receiving summer meals from Greenwood each day has been falling since 2012, when 25 or fewer students showed up for lunch.

Greenwood officials will decide after this summer whether to offer summer meals in the future, Hargis said.

“I don’t know. We’ve wondered that every year we’ve done it,” she said.

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