School may be out for the summer, but several Johnson County schools are still serving lunch daily for children who might otherwise go hungry.
For the Shawnee Mission School District, the number of children showing up at mealtime at 10 area elementary schools has increased this summer with the district serving more than 14,000 meals in the first month of its Summer Lunch Bunch program.
“We’re serving about 50 more children per day than we did last year,” said Nancy Coughenour, director of food service for the school district. “It truly takes a while for people to get the word out.”
The district has offered summer lunches for six years. This year, meals are being offered to all children 18 years and younger during weekdays between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. until July 28. The program is offered at the following elementary schools: Apache, Broken Arrow, Comanche, Crestview, Merriam Park, Nieman, Overland Park, Rising Star, Rosehill and Shawanoe.
Last year, the district served 27,662 meals during the summer.
Shawnee Mission is not alone in Johnson County. The Olathe, De Soto and Gardner-Edgerton school districts also provide meals during the summer. Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and the Harvesters community food network also each have a location within the district.
All providers are reimbursed for all food and labor costs of the summer program – which totaled $104,009 for Shawnee Mission last year – by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2016, the USDA served more than 153 million meals and snacks to children during the summer months at a cost of $472 million. Besides schools, the Summer Food Service Program provides meals at camps, playgrounds, community centers, federal housing and churches. Across Kansas, school districts and other organization provided more than 910,000 summer lunches last year.
While aimed at assisting students who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, Shawnee Mission’s program is open to all children and the school district doesn’t check ID for income or even residency status.
Coughenour said she remembered a couple of summers ago when a schoolbus from western Kansas full of students headed to an event on Kansas City pulled up in front of one of the district’s locations after seeing a sign for free lunch. The students were all fed.
“It’s a stopgap method to get food to kids because the kids we serve don’t have to be Shawnee Mission residents,” she said.
Coughenour added that the program also lets her keep about 25 of her food service employees working during the summer months. Unlike some summer food programs, Shawnee Mission provides hot lunches.
In recent years, the program has branched beyond just serving lunch as the YMCA and the Johnson County Park & Recreation District have started daycare and other programs at the schools. In addition, some schools have started library reading programs and Jump Start classes to prepare young children about to start kindergarten in the fall.
Coughenour said she doesn’t believe the growth in summer lunches is driven by greater need. The percentage of Shawnee Mission students receiving free or reduced-price lunches has remained relatively stable at around 35 percent for several years.
For more information, see http://foodservices.smsd.org/Pages/Summer-Lunch-Bunch.aspx.
David Twiddy: firstname.lastname@example.org.