3 free lunch sites open for children

GREENFIELD — Hancock County children can get a free hot lunch every weekday this summer at three sites in Greenfield.

That’s triple the locations open compared with last year, when the only site available for a meal was the Patricia Elmore Center in a program provided by Gleaners Food Bank and several local organizations.

Starting Monday, Harris Elementary School and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County also will host free-lunch programs aimed at keeping children from going without.

Greenfield-Central Schools is initiating a summer feeding program.

“We feel there’s a lot of children out there that go hungry during the summer,” said Linda Weirich, Greenfield-Central assistant food service director. “We just felt there was more of a need to be more broad across the city of Greenfield.”

All three sites have food provided by the Summer Food Service Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Patricia Elmore Center in Riley Park will be open for a third consecutive year, and the program has been growing. In 2013, 1,000 meals were served; last year, 1,200 meals were served.

The program is a collaboration among Gleaners, United Way of Central Indiana, Greenfield Parks and Recreation and Hancock Regional Hospital Food Services. On Fridays, children can take home a bag of food for the weekend.

Meals are served by teams of volunteers from local corporations and service organizations, said Jeannie Roberts, volunteer engagement coordinator for the United Way of Central Indiana.

At all three sites, any child 18 and under can get a meal. There’s no proof of need required and no preregistration, and children don’t even have to be accompanied by an adult.

“They truly just come and eat,” Roberts said.

Word is spreading about two new sites opening up. The school corporation will prepare food at Harris Elementary School for free meals starting at 11 a.m. every day. Meals will also be sent to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Jim Andrews Unit in Greenfield.

“We are planning for 250 (meals a day), but we also are prepared to serve as many as we need to,” Weirich said.

The school will be reimbursed by the USDA based on the number of students who attend, but business manager Tony Zurwell said it’s hard to tell how much the program could cost the school district by the end of the summer. Some 20 cafeteria staff members are assisting, and there were also startup costs affiliated with it, such as the purchase of large coolers to transport food.

Children can expect a hot main entree and vegetable, fruit, milk and water. While all three sites emphasize serving children, the program is also open for adults registered in state-approved educational programs for the mentally or physically disabled.

And while the sites are open in Greenfield, any Hancock County student can grab a bite to eat.

Mt. Vernon and Southern Hancock do not have free feeding programs for children. Eastern Hancock has a food pantry available to families in need once a week over the summer. Families should call or email any of the school’s guidance counselors or the main office at 317-936-5444 to coordinate a time to pick up food.

Weirich said the Greenfield-Central schools have been promoting the summer lunch program through its website and parental alert system. More than a third, or nearly 1,600 Greenfield-Central students, are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches this school year, which is the federal benchmark measuring need in the community.

“We just want to make sure the students and children in our area or outside our area, no child is going to go hungry this summer,” Weirich said.

At a glance

There are three sites open for Hancock County children to get a free hot meal every weekday this summer from June 1-July 31:

Harris Elementary School, 200 W. Park St., Greenfield; 11 a.m. to noon

Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County, 715 E. Lincoln St., Greenfield; 11 a.m. to noon

Patricia Elmore Center, 280 N. Apple St., Greenfield; noon to 1 p.m. (closed July 3)

For information on volunteering at the Patricia Elmore Center, email jeannie.roberts@uwci.org.