Few taking advantage of free summer lunches

Students can get free lunches at locations around the city during the summer.

Yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch - and we found them.

But in a city with distressing numbers of hungry children, we also found relatively few getting free lunches and breakfasts. Summer Servings is a deal too good to pass up, but for some reason, too many families are.

Chicken nuggets, green beans, strawberries, and chocolate milk. Kaden Jackson and his buddies are eating it up.

"You get to enjoy school lunches during the summer," proclaimed Jackson, a fourth-grader.

School lunches are that good?

"Yes," Kaden answered with a big smile.

Free to anyone 18 or younger, you'd expect long lines, but not today at the Speedway High School cafeteria or any of the city's roughly 200 Summer Servings locations.

Even at no cost and no strings attached, an alarmingly low number of Marion County's families take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch program.

Yet only a fraction of the children who receive free or reduced cost lunches during the school year get free meals during the summer. That worries the county's public health department director, Dr. Virginia Cain.

"No child should go without breakfast or lunch in this community and this program is making that happen," Cain said during Mondays announcement of the summer feeding program.

Meals are available in schools, city parks, community centers, churches and other locations.

Organizers admit too many parents, like Melissa Speer, are unaware or didn't understand the food was free for all.

"I thought it was just for the kids who qualified for free and reduced lunch, I didn't realize it was for the whole community. We came right over," she said.

Parents we talked with praise about Summer Servings, for it's convenience, wholesome food, and the relief it provides the family budget.

"During the summer, the grocery bill can go up tremendously, because all of a sudden you have kids at home," said Angie Gordon, mother of two children.

Schools and Indy Parks are working harder to publicize the free meals and keep kids from going hungry. But neighbors telling neighbors, kids telling kids, they've found, is the best advertising.

And Kaden is a great pitchman.

"This is one of my favorite lunches. Chicken nuggets," he laughed before grabbing another fork full of green beans.

Summer Servings locations are as near as the Internet or a smartphone. Both feature lists or interactive maps. Just plug in a zip code, zoom in, click and you will see the name, address, times and meals available.

You can also text "FOOD" to 36279 to get a list of locations.

A few sites opened Monday. More will open as more schools recess for the Summer.

Summer Servings