During the school year, 52.6% of the public school student population in Daviess County receives free or reduced lunch, and in neighboring Martin County the number is 51%.
Students are deemed eligible for this program by a comparison of their family size to income. With schools recently having released for summer break, the question arises, “how well are these students eating while school is out of session?” With this question in mind, the USDA began in 1968 what would become today’s Summer Food Service Program or SFSP.
SFPS is a federally funded, state-administered program that reimburses providers who serve free, healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas during the summer months when school is not in session. Both the Washington and Loogootee high school cafeterias serve as meal sites for a similar program called the National School Lunch Program under the Seamless Summer Option, which operates similarly to SFSP but requires less administrative work making schools the ideal location for such community services.
Through SFPS, a meal site can be anywhere in a community where children and teens can receive a meal in a safe and supervised environment. Sponsors enter into an agreement with state agencies to run the program. Any faith-based or non-profit charitable location can sponsor a site.
With SFPS, sites can vary in setting from schools to parks, churches, and community centers. Most recently, in 2018 the SFSP provided more than 1.5 million nutritious meals and snacks to children nationally. In communities where multiple SFSP meal sites exist, there is a rating system to guide consumers to bronze, silver, and gold level sites based on food quality/variety, outreach efforts, and environment.
The Free Summer Lunch Program in Washington runs Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria starting today through July 31. Individuals 18 and under are eligible for a meal.
The program in Loogootee called, “Summer Food Rocks!” will take place the same days and times in the Loogootee High School cafeteria, but it doesn’t begin until Monday. The Loogootee program also welcomes adults to share in the balanced meal for only $3, and Food Service Director Patti Sander assures the meals are good.
“It is good food with lots of variety,” she said.
The public is encouraged to join in on the meals, not only because it is a low-cost option for a good lunch, but because when it becomes a community event, the stigma that a child might feel over needing to be set apart to participate in a charitable program is lessened, if not removed.