Jennings County’s summer lunch program that helps low-income families feed their children continues to meet the need because of strong support from the community.

The Free Lunch All Summer Hurrah (FLASH) program at the Country Squire Lakes clubhouse, which is open to residents throughout the county, began its seventh year June 5.

FLASH started in 2010 during the summer months when students would not have access to the free lunches served during the school year.

“We became aware that there were children actually going hungry and we knew we wanted to do something about that,” said Colleen Malone, who helped organize the FLASH program.

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Jennings County was the first county in Indiana to create a summer lunch program for the children of low-income families. Originally, FLASH was sponsored by St. Vincent Jennings Hospital and supported by Gleaners Food Bank through local donations and U.S.Department of Agriculture grants.

The program has continued to despite changes. For example, Gleaners Food Bank has withdrawn from the lunch program and therefore FLASH receives no USDA funding, Malone said.

“Now, we are funded strictly by donations from local businesses, organizations, churches and individuals,” Malone said. “Jennings County has taken this program very seriously and we have proven we know how to feed our children,” Malone said.

The program averaged a total of 75 kids and accompanying adults each day during the first week — nearly double the amount from last year.

“We are making about 150 sandwiches every lunch, and we like to balance the sandwiches with fruits and other items,” Malone said.

Volunteers have been vital to the success of the lunch program because they help purchase, deliver, prepare and serve the food for each lunch, Malone said.

“The churches have been terrific in helping with both donations and volunteers. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the First United Methodist Church and Christ’s Way Christian Church are currently providing two-thirds of our volunteers,” Malone said. “Many other churches also send donations and individual volunteers.”

More volunteers always are welcome, Malone added.

“These kids are the future for this community and the community is involved with helping them. It’s a community building program. It’s good for the kids but it is also good for all the volunteers. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you see the smile on a hungry kids face when you hand them a peanut butter sandwich,” Malone said.

Although Gleaners is no longer involved in the FLASH program, it still provides a food distribution program called Summer Meals for Kids. In that program, shelf-stable food is distributed three times a week to families with children under the age of 18.

St. Vincent Jennings Hospital is involved in both the FLASH and Summer Meals for Kids programs, hospital spokesperson Terri Everage said.

“Gleaners must have a local sponsor for their program so we serve as their sponsor, but we also continue donations to the FLASH program and members of our staff routinely volunteer for both programs,” Everage said.

About the programs

Free Lunch All Summer Long (FLASH)

What: Lunch program to help low-income families feed their children

When: Noon to about 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through July 28

Where: Clubhouse at Country Squire Lakes, 3342 Country Manor East, North Vernon

Summer Meals for Kids

What: Shelf-stable food is distributed three times a week to families with children under age 18.

When, where to pick up food:

5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Wayside Inn mission, 304 Hoosier St., North Vernon

5 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Campbell Township Volunteer Fire Department, 5230 East U.S. 50, Butlerville

Noon Friday at the Country Squire Lakes clubhouse, 3342 Country Manor East, North Vernon

For more information about the programs: 812-767-2407.