Indiana's Summer Meal Programs in Full Swing

For more than 40 years, the Summer Food Service Program in Indiana has provided children ages 18 and under with free, nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months. (Adobe Stock)

Children living in income-restricted households do not always have regular access to healthy meals, especially when school is out.

Almost 200 summer meal programs in Indiana are working to change it by offering thousands of kids free breakfast and lunch. What started at a park site in the summer of 2017 with a monthly book distribution to area kids has transitioned to a quickly growing summer school meal program.

Stephanie Stuemke, food service director for the Danville Community School Corporation, said the meals assist the children beyond just filling their stomachs.

"The summer school students really take advantage of that breakfast," Stuemke observed. "It makes them more focused when they're doing their tests in their summer school than they would (be) on an empty stomach."

The Indiana Department of Education website has a link to find Summer Food Service Program sites, and also online forms and instructions to apply for free or reduced-price meals for the coming school year. According to the Public School Review, 42% of Indiana students qualify.

The Summer Food Service Program runs through July 28 at distribution sites, mostly in high-poverty areas determined through census data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets nutrition standards the programs have to meet in order to receive federal reimbursement for the meals. Some sites serve more than one meal.

Stuemke noted parents juggling the morning rush to work may have limited time to fix kids a healthy breakfast. South Elementary also offers a program to put those parents' minds at ease.

"It's called PACE, and it's for parents who need to drop off their students when they go to work," Stuemke explained. "Those students come and eat breakfast, as well as summer school students."

In the PACE program, students can do homework, practice study skills, and participate in recreation and creative activities. The education department said all children 18 or younger, and individuals with disabilities over 18 who are enrolled in K-12 school programs are eligible for the free summer meals.

By Terri Dee, Anchor/Producer

Monday, July 10, 2023

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