ZEAL FOR MEALS: Summer food program continues to serve up smiles

Deidra Couch, left, and LeDonna Hood fill a bag for a family. Greenfield-Central's meal program is available at six sites every weekday. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Even though they were wearing masks, you could tell the “lunch ladies” were all smiles as they handed out food under partly cloudy blue skies on Tuesday.

As parents pulled their cars into the six pickup sites around town, the women handed over bags containing a hot lunch of corndogs, steamed carrots and applesauce, in addition to a Pop-Tart, fruit cup and milk for breakfast the next day.

For the sixth summer in a row, Greenfield-Central School Corporation is providing free meals to children each weekday in June and July. Studies show food insecurity for children continues to be an issue in Greenfield and Hancock County. For example, more than a third of Greenfield-Central students are on the free and reduced-price lunch program, which is considered a barometer of hunger in communities, according to the state Department of Education. Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger-relief organization, predicts Hancock County’s food insecurity rate will top 14% this year. (The federal government defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.)

The summer meal program serves children ages 18 and under, and not just Greenfield-Central students and their families. Each weekday, parents and caregivers can pick up a hot lunch and a packaged breakfast for each child in their care.

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It’s a great way for the school system to help families out when kids are away from school, especially in a year riddled by unemployment and uncertainty, said Amanda Stout, the school system’s director of food services.

This summer meal program comes on the heels of the corporation’s meal kit distribution program, which served up more than 46,000 breakfasts and lunches in the first eight weeks of the program this past spring.

The pre-made meal kits were distributed starting in mid-March, shortly after schools closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stout said both programs were designed to meet an ongoing need in the community.

“In some of the surveys the school has put out…a lot of feedback we’ve gotten is the great appreciation for the meal distribution kits we did,” Stout said. “We could tell that there was a need to continue that through the summer, especially this summer, to provide meals for our kids.”

Although numbers aren’t yet available for this summer’s program, Stout said 12,400 breakfasts and lunches total were served in June and July last year.

This year, meals can be picked up each weekday at six locations throughout the city, including Greenfield-Central Junior High School and J.B. Stephens Elementary School.

Meals are also served at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County, but only to program members.

A school bus serves as a mobile site for the program at two Greenfield churches — Faith Lutheran and Calvary Baptist.

A new site was also added this year at the Riley Park Pool concession stand.

“The parks department reached out to us and said the facility wasn’t going to be used since the pool was closed, and they still wanted to be able to use it to help out the youth in the area,” Stout said.

The concession stand is adjacent to the city’s splash pad, which has been a draw for young families this summer. Last week, two moms with eleven kids in tow were thrilled to receive the free meals at the concession stand.

“Some of the kids were theirs and some were nieces and nephews, so they were very happy to find out they could get lunch for all the kids. Like everyone else we’ve served, they were very appreciative,” said Carol Gray, the kitchen manager at Eden Elementary School, who has been handing out meals this summer behind the junior high.

She and her fellow food service workers who have been distributing meals said it makes them feel good to know they’re helping families throughout the community.

“We get a lot of nice comments from the families who come by,” said Beth Engle, a self-proclaimed “lunch lady” at the junior high.

“One little boy told us our food was amazing,” she recalled with a laugh. Last week, the boy and his siblings brought the lunch ladies homemade thank you cards.

“It’s nice to know we’re making a difference,” said Gray, who has gotten to know the parents who stop to pick up meals for their kids, sometimes on a daily basis.

“There’s one dad who comes every day with his girls, and they go ride bikes or have a picnic in the park with their lunches,” she said.

Not all recipients are from the Greenfield community, which is just fine with Stout. On Tuesday, a mom and her teenage daughter from New Palestine pulled in to pick up a meal at the junior high.

Stout said safety is paramount in preparing and distributing meals.

“All of our food service employees are wearing masks and gloves whenever handling food — whether on site or handing it out or during meal prep at the kitchen. They’re also practicing social distancing at all of the sites,” she said.

Not requiring children to be present at pickup also limits the amount of exposure kids have, Stout said.

The school system’s registered dietitian — Katie Peters — prepares the menus for the summer program. Two weeks of rotating lunches include everything from baked spaghetti to grilled cheese, while breakfasts consist of some type of grain like a granola bar, in addition to a fruit cup and milk.

Stout encourages all families who can benefit to check out the program. “Whether it’s your first time or you’re a frequent visitor, we’ll feed anyone who comes,” said Stout, who is seeking new food service workers to join her staff.

“Right now we have roughly 60 people on staff, but we could fill anywhere from eight to 10 vacancies,” she said.

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The Greenfield-Central School Corporation is offering its Summer Meal Program for the sixth consecutive year. Parents and caregivers can pick up meals for children ages 18 and under each weekday at various sites throughout the city:

Calvary Baptist Church parking lot

1450 W. Main St., Greenfield

12:15–12:35 p.m.

Faith Lutheran Church parking lot

200 W. McKenzie Road, Greenfield

11:45 a.m.–12:05 p.m.

Greenfield-Central Junior High School

1440 N. Franklin St., Greenfield

11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

J.B. Stephens Elementary

1331 N. Blue Road, Greenfield

11:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Riley Park Pool concession stand

300 Apple St., Greenfield

11:45 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

Boys & Girls Clubs (program members only)

715 E. Lincoln Street, Greenfield

11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

For information on the meal program, email [email protected] or visit gcsc.k12.in.us.

Greenfield-Central’s food service department is looking to fill eight to 10 positions. For information on employment, contact Amanda Stout at [email protected].

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The summer meal program is not the only initiative working to battle food insecurity in the county. Longstanding efforts also are available this summer and beyond:

Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, 202 E. Main St., Greenfield, provides meals twice a day. More information is available online at www.kbmsk.org or by calling 317-462-9900.

The Hancock County Food Pantry is a fully stocked operation that serves all of Hancock County. The pantry, which has pickup times four days a week, is at 741½ South State St., Greenfield. More information is available online at www.hancockcountyfoodpantry.com or by calling 317-468-0273.

Gleaners Food Bank of Indianapolis also organizes regular mobile pantries at sites in Hancock County. More information is available online at www.gleaners.org.