Summer Meals program serves up free food to local kids

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GREENFIELD — LeDonna Hood has no hesitation when asked what makes her summer job worthwhile.

“Seeing all of our kids,” she said, shortly before serving up pizza, apples, carrots and milk at the splash pad in Greenfield.

Hood leads a team of 13 employees, serving free meals to children of all ages at four sites in Greenfield this summer.

“We miss our kids – we want to see our kids, just getting caught up with them, their smiles. And meeting the parents. They’re very appreciative.”

Greenfield-Central High School and Greenfield Central Junior High School are sites open to any child ages 1-18 to receive a free breakfast or lunch this summer. Submitted photos

Greenfield-Central’s Summer Meals program started in 2015 at just one site, with two employees serving meals to children.

Now, four locations serve on average 360 meals a day, according to a press release from the school corporation.

Crowd-pleasers like corn dogs, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and walking tacos are free for anyone ages 1-18, regardless of whether they are enrolled in school.

The Summer Food Service Program is federally funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered through the Indiana Department of Education. It reimburses program operators like Greenfield-Central who serve free, healthful meals to children and teens in low-income areas when school is not in session.

While eligibility for the program is based on the percentage of children eligible for the school’s free and reduced-price school meals, any child can grab a bite to eat – no questions asked.

Breakfast and lunch are served weekdays at Greenfield-Central High School and Greenfield Central Junior High School. Lunch is served daily at the splash pad at Riley Park. The fourth location is reserved only for members of Greenfield Parks’ Kids Kamp, where both breakfast and lunch are served.

“The splash pad is one of the most popular sites for kids to enjoy a meal and have a safe, fun place to cool down during the summer heat,” Hood said, adding that the heat wave in June meant for a very popular site.

Greenfield mom Amanda Wheeler was grateful her children were able to pick up a mini pizza and fresh fruits and vegetables after their swim lessons last week.

“I am so thankful I don’t have to dirty another dish, cook another meal,” she said.

Lincoln, 7, and Lucy, 4, said while the pizza was good, the quesadillas earlier in the week were the best. Wheeler said they stop by the free lunch sites often, and added the junior high staff are especially fun with her children.

“All of the staff are just so friendly, and so kind,” she said.

K.C. Brown said her girls Miriam, 6, and Sylvia, 2, are trying new things this summer. A green pepper filled with even more vegetables was a surprising hit, she said, and something she never would have tried at home.

“We cut our kids short so often,” Brown said. “Now I’m cutting up bell peppers at home.”

Brown said she’s grateful that any child can grab a bite to eat, and hopes the program continues to grow and end the stigma of food insecurity.

“My girls are homeschooled, so this is like the highlight of the summer to go out and have a school lunch,” she said. “We love it, it’s so great.”

Breakfast is served at Greenfield-Central High School and Greenfield Central Junior High School from 7:30-8:30 a.m. each weekday. G-CHS hosts lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., while the junior high lunch time is from 11 a.m. to noon.

The splash pad offers lunch daily from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Free meals will continue through July 24.

The program has been steadily growing in recent years. In 2023, nearly 8,200 meals were served throughout the summer. Now, just midway through this summer, the program has already served about 6,300 meals.

Amanda Stout, director of food service for the G-C corporation, said she is eager to open up even more sites for summer food programs in 2025 and beyond. There are several libraries and childcare camps where children gather during the summer, and as the program grows she is hoping to reach even more kids.

With grocery prices on the rise, free meals provide some relief to local families.

Greenfield-Central staff serve an average of 360 free meals to local children daily this summer. Submitted photos

New this year, G-C was an advocate of the new SUN Bucks program from the state of Indiana. Anyone enrolled in the free and reduced-price school meals automatically received a card with $120 for each eligible school-aged child to help purchase groceries throughout the summer. The EBT cards were mailed directly to homes and encouraged the purchase of healthful foods such as fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains and dairy; they can even be used at local farmers markets.

Stout said the combination of SUN Bucks cards and free summer meals have undoubtedly been helpful to local families on tight budgets.

She hopes people start to realize how healthful school lunches can be, and possibly become advocates for purchasing the lunches throughout the school year. A meal at school could be more nutritious and likely less expensive than a lunch packed from home, she said.

Both Stout and Hood said they like the laid-back, casual atmosphere of summertime meals with local children. Plus, the program educates parents on the nutrition of food served at local schools

“You get an opportunity to interact with the parents in the summer, too,” Stout said. “It’s completely different when the parents can see the food we serve during the school year.”