GREENFIELD — Eleven-year-old Gairett Holmes had already downed his burrito; nabbed and finished off his buddy Chase Judd’s entree; and was looking hard across the table at the half-eaten lunch of Chase’s sister, Jazmine, during the first 15 minutes of lunch time at Summer Meals for Kids Wednesday at the Patricia Elmore Center.
Gairett was a hungry man, and he fit the profile nicely for a program that dispels the notion there is no free lunch.
Targeting high-need rural communities, the program was first started in 2012 to provide free lunches at nine sites in three counties.
This year, the second summer in Greenfield, the program has expanded to 32 sites in six counties, said Eddie Oliver, Gleaners Food Bank program manager.
“It is certainly need-driven,” Oliver said. “There are so many underserved communities, especially in our rural areas, that just don’t have the infrastructure to provide lunches in the summer, so we’re trying to fill that need as best we can.”
The lunches, prepared by Hancock Regional Hospital’s food service team and then delivered in microwaveable containers to the recreation center, provide a nutritious meal, including a vegetable and fruit along with white or chocolate milk. They met with favorable reviews.
“Yesterday, the kids had dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, and the day before it was ravioli,” said Tosha Gebhart of Greenfield, who was refereeing Gairett’s interaction with the Judds Wednesday.
Gebhart said she was unaware of the program last year, but would be taking advantage of it this summer to manage food costs.
“It’s going to be a big help – 100 percent,” Gebhart said.
The program had served more than 60 lunches by Wednesday at 12:30, and Rotary volunteer Joe Duffy said he expected to hand out around 30 meals by the time lunch hour concluded.
Rotarians were among the variety of civic groups that have signed on to serve lunch, and Rotarian Donnie Munden said there was no shortage of help.
“We’ll be volunteering the first week and the last week of the program,” Munden said, “and we probably had enough volunteers to work all summer, but we didn’t want to take away from all the other civic organizations that wanted to help.”
Organizers hope to build on the success of the program in 2013, when more than 1,000 meals were served.
“This program was a big hit (for volunteers) last year,” said Paula Jarrett, Hancock County area director for the United Way of Central Indiana. “They get to see the impact of what they’re doing immediately while they’re volunteering.”
A number of faith-based, corporate and service organizations have joined the effort for various weeks throughout the summer; however, organizers have set aside one week for smaller groups who might not be able to commit for a full week to get involved.
In addition to daily lunch on weekdays, those attending on Fridays will be able to eat lunch at the center and also take a “Grab and Go Meal for the Weekend.”
“We hope it will incentivize attendance on Fridays and help out on the weekends,” Oliver said.
More information on volunteering for Summer Meals for Kids is available by contacting UWCI volunteer coordinator Jeannie Roberts at (317) 477-2345.
SUMMER MEALS FOR KIDS PROGRAM
What: Summer Meals for Kids, presented by United Way of Central Indiana, Hancock Regional Hospital, Greenfield Rotary and Greenfield Parks and Recreation in partnership with Gleaners Food Bank, provides free lunches weekdays to kids 18 and younger.
Where: Patricia Elmore Center in Riley Park, 280 N. Apple St., Greenfield.
When: Noon to 1 p.m. weekdays, June 2 through July 30, closed July 4.