LOGANSPORT — Several local faith-based organizations have partnered with a Lafayette food bank to serve free, healthy lunches this summer to children who come to the old Morningstar girls’ home or Logansport Church of the Brethren.
Lunch will also be served at the Fairview ball park on Wednesdays for part of the summer.
It’s the first year that the federally funded Summer Food Service Program will offer lunches in Cass County — and Emmaus Mission Center director Jason Mitchell hopes many children will be able to walk or bike to the free meal site.
Tuesday was the first day for the program and only two children came for the meal.
“We had heard that it would start kind of slow,” Mitchell said. “It’s further into the holidays that things will pick up. It was good to be able to serve the kids we did have.”
He said he hoped publicity as well as a sign in the front of the building would raise awareness of the program.
The program is funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant managed through Lafayette-based Food Finders Food Bank.
A $50,000 grant from ConAgra supplements the USDA funds and allowed Food Finders to more than double the number of food sites it coordinates. This year, the organization launched 37 sites, up from
17 last year.
Food Finders estimates that 27 percent of Cass County children are at risk of hunger. Since more than half the county’s students are enrolled in the school free and reduced lunch program, the summer food program will be open to any child regardless of family income level.
The program provides a free lunch to any child ages 2 to 18. Each day’s meal will change, but all meals served on a given day are the same. Children have to stay at the center while they eat their meal.
Emmaus looked into administering a site for the USDA about two years ago, Mitchell said, but staff couldn’t take care of the paperwork and logistics necessary to stay in line with the USDA regulations.
“There were really a lot of regulations in the background that you have to work with if you want to administer the program,” Mitchell said.
Then Food Finders contacted the center to ask about using its facilities for the food program. Food Finders said it would handle the paperwork if Emmaus could find volunteers to staff the site.
“That fit us perfectly,” said Mitchell. “We have an empty building we’re not using currently, and we thought, “Why don’t we use that?’ It became very easy for us to offer it.”
Food Finders also contacted staff at Logansport Church of the Brethren, who found “overwhelming” support from the congregation for the idea, according to associate pastor Tom Anders.
About 1,200 cartons of milk arrived at Emmaus before Tuesday’s program launch. Food Finders sent 22 cases of meals to the center, each containing 24 meals.
“We’re thinking those cases will only last a few weeks through the summer,” said Kristine Jansen, program coordinator for Food Finders. “But don’t worry, we’ll send more. Our goal is that every child in Logansport who’s hungry will have a meal.”
Mitchell said he asked for food for an estimated 100 children per day.
“By the time the first week has passed, we should be better able to gauge how many will come,” he said.
The food bank will supplement Emmaus’s regular food pantry, which supplies food to about 30 families a day during the school year. Summertime pantry demand is about double, Mitchell said, since kids can’t eat in the free and reduced lunch programs.
“A lot of families are struggling right now,” said Mitchell. “Providing one extra meal a day helps those families stretch their dollars further.”
Mitchell said the food program is partly a result of the Cass County Resource Network’s Food Security Task Force. Data from the task force indicates that the number of hungry people in Cass County is going down.
“Some of the things that we’re doing are making a difference, but there’s definitely a pressing need to do more,” he said.
Mitchell said there were two more programs this summer that will help feed children: The Kids Pantry, which will allow kids to take some food home, and a summer food mobile where they will be able to pick up food once a month.
“We’re going to have a lot of opportunities to give out food, so that’s fantastic,” he said.
• Sarah Einselen is a staff reporter for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5151 or email@example.com.