It turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch — at least for children and teens 18 and younger.
Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporations will offer free breakfasts, lunches and snacks to all children, regardless of family income, during the summer break from school.
Nancy Millspaugh, director of food service for Bartholomew Consolidated, said the program is part of an effort to address food insecurity.
Food insecurity means that people do not have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A 2005 study published in The Journal of Nutrition said that food insecurity puts children at risk for health problems, developmental delay and impaired school performance.
One in five children in Bartholomew County may not know where their next meal is coming from. That’s nearly 4,000 local children, according to 2013 KIDS COUNT data.
During the school year, those children are fed through school free- and reduced-price lunch programs. The Summer Food Service Program takes care of them during the eight-week summer vacation, with sites serving hot meals through Aug. 1.
“It’s easy access if the kids need help getting additional food,” Millspaugh said. “Just to make sure they get a hot meal for breakfast and lunch is helpful.”
The BCSC program served 4,789 free meals in June of last year and 3,887 in July, plus in October during fall break.
Millspaugh said she expects similar numbers this year but hopes the program will expand to address need in the community.
A site was added midseason last year at Morningside Park, bringing the total number of meal sites to eight in Columbus.
There are three sites serviced by Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.: Hartsville United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church and Hope Elementary School.
The Summer Food Service Program is linked with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, so there are fun activities planned for the children at the sites.
Millspaugh said she encourages more families to participate — even adults can dine for $3 per meal.
“People think it might be just a cold sandwich, a peanut butter and jelly,” she said. “But they’re actually hot meals that are well-balanced.”
Grace Davis, a 7-year-old from Seymour who spends her summer days in Columbus with a baby sitter, said she knows firsthand the food is tasty.
“My favorite is the baked beans,” she said. “I like the lunches because they make my tummy stop growling.”