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Summer feeding program in danger

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More children received meals from two local school districts over the summer, but a third school district may end its summer food program because too few students showed up.

Clark-Pleasant schools served 13,961 lunches in June and July, while Franklin schools served nearly 20,500 meals this summer. That averages 410 lunches served per day for Clark-Pleasant, and 477 lunches served per day for Franklin, according to food service directors Kim Combs and Jill Overton.

Children and their families also had more options for where to get a meal. Clark-Pleasant and Franklin each added three summer food sites this year, bringing Clark-Pleasant’s total to eight and Franklin’s to seven.

Both districts served more students than during any previous summer, the food service directors said. Last year, Clark-Pleasant served about 11,000 meals, and Franklin served 15,919.

Both schools posted signs and distributed fliers throughout neighborhoods to let families know of the summer food sites near them, and more children arrived for meals at the new sites throughout the summer.

At the start of the summer, from five to 10 children a day attended Clark-Pleasant’s three new sites, and by the end of the summer, 15 to 25 children were showing up to get a meal, Combs said.

“I feel like we did extremely well at the new sites, particularly as this was our first year,” Overton said.

But in Greenwood, food service director Cheryl Hargis doesn’t believe the school district can afford to continue the program. She’s not sure why, but students on the northeast side of the city didn’t come for lunch.

For most of the summer, about 18 students per day arrived at Greenwood’s site, which was at Northeast Elementary School. The school also hosted summer school for students during three weeks in July, and during that time about 60 students a day arrived for meals. In total, Greenwood served 1,284 meals this summer, but that may not have been enough meals served to pay for the program, Hargis said.

“As I see it right now, and of course it will depend on the people above me, but I do think we won’t attempt it next year,” Hargis said. “This is three years into it, and we just have not done well.”

The three school districts sponsor the summer food sites to help feed students whose families count on free or reduced-price lunches from schools to feed their children during the school year. Franklin, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood all have between 43 and 46 percent of their students participating in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Money for school districts’ summer food programs comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and school districts are reimbursed based on the number of students fed. In order to fully cover the costs of the food services workers and the food, school districts typically need to average 25 students a day.

Hargis isn’t sure yet whether Greenwood served enough meals this summer to break even, but the school district can’t afford to lose money on the summer food program.

She knows there is a need for free summer meals, based on the number of children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. But she doesn’t know why more area students don’t come to the summer feeding program.

“I know the need is there,” she said. “But if we can’t get the kids to come, I don’t know what else to do.”

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