Summer lunch programs growing in popularity at Jackson and Northwest schools

Kim Hendershot takes her kids out to lunch five days a week at Hunt Elementary School.

The school is part of the Jackson Public Schools summer lunch program, which has grown in popularity thisjackson-northwest year.

“It helps, obviously, because it’s free,” Hendershot said. “It helps me save money on my grocery bill.”

Hendershot has been using the summer lunch program for five years, she said.

This year, the average number of meals distributed each day has increased, said Brant Russell, the school district’s food service director. Next week, he is forecasting about 2,100 meals a day. The highest number served last year was 2,000, during the busiest time of the summer in July.

Last week, more than 10,000 meals were distributed, Russell said.

“For us, it’s a lot,” he said. “The economy has some effect on it. Summer school seems to have a lot of kids enrolled this year.”

About 35 sites offer free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18 or younger, including students enrolled in summer school. A listing of some locations and meal times can be found on the school district’s website,

“(The program) gives access to students who might not necessarily have access to meals during the summer,” Russell said. “It’s important to know that those kids have access to at least one meal a day.”

About 70 percent of Jackson Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the summer program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Northwest Community Schools had 50 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch in the just-ended school year, allowing it to offer a summer lunch program for the first time.

The program started Monday, with about 60 kids combined for breakfast and lunch Monday and again Tuesday, said Patti Russell, Northwest’s food service director.

“The poverty level is growing, and I think it is a need in Northwest schools,” she said.

The Northwest program is small now, but Patti Russell hopes to keep it growing. Currently there are two sites serving the free lunch: Parnall Elementary School and Northwest High School.

Breakfast is served from 8 to 9 a.m. and lunch from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Patti Russell said Northwest has the resources to serve many more meals.

“I could do 1,000 meals a day if I had the kids for it,” she said. “It’s getting the kids there.”

Published: Thursday, July 01, 2010, 11:21 AM