GREENFIELD — More than 1,800 free meals have been served to local children so far this summer, and organizers are on track to serve more than double the number of lunches served last year.
Three sites serving lunch to children are open across Greenfield this summer — two more than in previous years. Now, halfway through the summer, the sites are serving more meals than ever before, organizers said.
For the past three years, the Patricia Elmore Center at Riley Park has hosted a free lunch program, coordinated by United Way of Central Indiana with the help of local volunteers.
This summer, the Greenfield-Central school district is hosting sites at Harris Elementary School and the Jim Andrews Unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County.
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“It just makes you happy — if a kid needs a meal, you give them a meal,” said Beth Wagner, site supervisor of the Harris summer lunch program.
Although there are more meals being served this summer, participation varies at all three sites.
Sometimes fewer than 10 children show up for a meal; other times, as many as 40 come.
Wagner said it’s similar to spotting a new customer at a garage sale: Foot traffic trickles throughout the day, so whenever a child walks up to the food line, it’s exciting.
“We do want kids. It’s like, ‘Oh look! Someone’s coming!’”
Same goes at the Pat Elmore Center, which is seeing fewer children than usual this year because more sites are hosting the summer lunch program, organizers said.
“Even if you serve only five meals in a day, you’re serving kids who may not have had a meal,” said Sarah Pearson, summer programs intern for the UWCI of Hancock County.
Five was the fewest number served the site has hosted, and last week attendance was down at all three sites. Maybe it had something to do with the fair; maybe the rain kept children away, organizers said.
One thing’s certain: There’s plenty of food available to serve more children in need.
The programs are funded by grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are a collaboration among Gleaners, United Way of Central Indiana, Greenfield Parks and Recreation and Hancock Regional Hospital Food Services.
All three sites make plenty of food to be prepared for an influx of foot traffic, organizers said.
Hancock Regional Hospital prepares food for the Pat Elmore site, while school district food service employees prepare meals for Harris and the Jim Andrews Unit.
So far at the Pat Elmore Center, 323 lunches have been served. The Boys and Girls Club served 999 as of the end of last week; and Harris served 529.
Alisha Jones was grateful Tuesday for the program for her two sons and two relatives who are visiting for the summer. They’re regular attendees at the Pat Elmore Center.
“They get a good meal, and it helps a lot,” Jones said.
Brianna Wogerman, 12, is visiting from Ohio for the summer and was enjoying Tuesday’s chicken nuggets.
“It’s neat because you get free meals, and you get a free book at the end (of the week),” she said.
Fridays are probably the busiest days at the Pat Elmore Center, since local Rotarians give away books to children. The youngsters also get a bag of nonperishable food items to last the entire weekend.
“It’s nice to be able to sleep at night with the knowledge they’ll be able to eat over the weekend and not go hungry,” Pearson said.
There’s also a sense of camaraderie among volunteers at the Pat Elmore Center. Local businesses, service clubs and churches provide volunteers for the program. Dawn Earlywine of Hancock Regional Hospital was volunteering for a second week Tuesday and said she now sees familiar faces.
“I get a personal relationship with the families,” Earlywine said. “I get to know the kids, and I know what they like to eat whenever they come in.”
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.
While any child can get a meal, organizers said the free lunches are most beneficial to those in need.
More than a third, or nearly 1,600 Greenfield-Central students, are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is the federal benchmark measuring need in the community.
Last year when only one site was open, roughly 1,200 meals were served through the entire summer.
Jeannie Roberts, volunteer engagement coordinator for the UWCI, said the United Way may partner with Greenfield-Central schools next year to see if there are ways to better coordinate the lunch sites.
“We want to collaborate with them. We just want to feed kids. It’s not a competition,” she said. “It may be that we could provide a site somewhere else in the county for kids that live further out. I definitely think we could work together to best provide food for these hungry kids.”
Any child 18 and under can get a free lunch this summer at one of three sites in Greenfield:
- Patricia Elmore Center, 280 Apple St., noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday
- Harris Elementary School, 200 W. Park Avenue, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday
- Jim Andrews Unit of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hancock County, 715 E. Lincoln St., 11 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday
Sites are closed this Friday for the Fourth of July holiday; children may get a take-home bag of nonperishable food items today at the Pat Elmore Center.