Claire Vaughn, 2, of Seymour smiled before taking a big bite of a pepperoni calzone gripped tightly in her hand.
“Mmmmm,” she said while chewing.
Her big sister, Zoey, 6, was more interested in a bowl of salad.
“I like salad,” she said.
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“She likes to pick off all the cheese and eat that,” their mother, Brittany Vaughn, clarified.
After attending a children’s program at the Jackson County Public Library in Seymour on Wednesday morning, Vaughn could have packed up the kids and headed to a restaurant to eat lunch. Or she could have taken them home and prepared a meal.
But thanks to Seymour Community School Corp.’s summer feeding program, she didn’t have to do either.
This year, the library is one of four free summer meal sites in Seymour. Other locations are at Seymour Middle School, Seymour High School and Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.
Lunches are served Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the school-based sites and from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the library. Breakfast also is available at the three school sites.
All meals are free to children up to age 18, and adults can eat for just $3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses the schools for the meals.
“This is a special program that is available in low-income areas,” said Stacey Townsend, food services director. “We qualify to operate the program at schools that have more than 50% of their students qualifying for meal assistance during the school year.”
The setup is perfect for families on the go, day cares, athletic teams and students who are taking summer classes.
“It’s great,” Vaughn said. “I don’t have to clean up.”
There are no signups or income requirements that have to be met to eat, and all are welcome, Townsend said.
The library and high school are new sites this year and have helped bring in new people, she added.
The library is serving an average of 30 meals per day and up to 60 meals on days when there are children’s programs going on before or afterwards.
“(The library) has been a great addition for us and for the community this summer,” Townsend said.
Bethany Schlatterer loves that she can bring her kids to eat for free after attending library programs.
Every meal consists of an entree, fresh fruits and vegetables and milk. If kids choose something they don’t end up eating, they can place the unopened item on a “share table” for another child to pick up if they are still hungry.
“It’s so convenient,” Schlatterer said. “I have one that is a picky eater, but they always have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available, and that’s probably what she would be eating at home anyway.”
Library employee Rhonda Fitzwater said the program has gone over better than library staff thought it would. Last year, the library tried sponsoring a meal site at a local church, but it wasn’t well-attended, Fitzwater said.
With a donation of a refrigerator from Luecke Audio Video Appliances in Seymour, library staff are able to pick up food at the high school and store items that need to be kept cold.
“Next year, we’re going to look at having it in the big conference room so we have more room,” she said. Right now, meals are served upstairs in what used to be the computer classroom.
The high school site has been well-utilized by students taking summer school classes or who are involved in sports camps.
“We are expecting big numbers for band camp week at the end of this month,” Townsend said.
But there hasn’t been many children from the surrounding neighborhood coming in for lunch, she added.
Seymour Middle School is a busy site for breakfast and lunch.
That’s because around 300 kids from the nearby Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and Girls Inc. of Jackson County walk over to eat each day.
“I love feeding the kids. I like seeing their faces,” Rita Cole said after serving lunch to kids from the Boys and Girls Club on Thursday afternoon.
She said this is her first year helping with the summer feeding program.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s a good program,” she said. “We’re serving free lunch. Come and eat.”
Cole said there typically aren’t too many people from the community who walk in to eat. Some days, there are none, while other days, there may be about a dozen, she said.
Ellie Ahlbrand, 8, was among those eating lunch Thursday. She said her favorite menu item is corn dogs.
“It’s great. It’s just very good,” Ahlbrand said of the food served. “I think it’s great that we get to come to eat here.”
The summer menus are based largely on the menus served during the school year since the meal patterns for the two programs are so similar.
“We choose many of the students’ favorite foods to serve during the summer,” Townsend said. “We tend to focus on more handheld items like sandwiches that are easier for children to eat and are not as messy.”
They also choose items that are simple to prepare since there aren’t as many cafeteria workers during the summer. Each school site has two to four employees who are responsible for preparing, serving and cleaning up after the meals.
Participation at SMS has increased so much this year that additional staffing was needed, Townsend said.
For the month of June, the program served a total of 14,040 meals to children at all four sites. That’s a 14% increase from the number of meals served in June 2018.
Many adults are joining their children for meals, too.
“We have served 30 breakfasts and 315 lunches to adults,” Townsend said. “At $2 for breakfast and $3 for lunch, it is a very inexpensive way to have a family meal outside of the home.”
The summer feeding program is important because of the number of kids who don’t know where their next meal will come from.
“One in seven Indiana residents are food insecure,” Townsend said. “That translates to 300,000 children.”
For Seymour Community Schools, 58% of students qualify for meal assistance through free and reduced cost meal plans, and many parents rely on the schools to provide breakfast and lunch during the school year.
“When school is out for the summer, that need doesn’t go away,” Townsend said.
Summer meals continue through July 26.
“If you haven’t stopped by one of our locations yet, there are still a couple weeks to give it a try,” Driver said.
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Free summer meals
Who: Seymour Community Schools is providing free breakfast and lunch for all children up to age 18.
When: Mondays through Fridays through July 26.
Where: Jackson County Public Library, 303 W. Second St., lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Seymour High School, 1350 W. Second St., breakfast from 7:40 to 8:40 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, 550 Miller Lane, and Seymour Middle School, 920 N. O’Brien St., breakfast, 8 to 9 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Adults can purchase breakfast for $2 and lunch for $3.
No income requirements or registration.