Henderson County Public Schools' Child Nutrition Department is feeding around 1,800 children a day through the Summer Meals program, which began on June 13 and will continue through Aug. 12.
The yearly program uses funds from the United States Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program to provide free lunches to children ages 2 to 18, with no eligibility requirements. Lunches are served Monday to Thursday or Friday, depending on the site, at 45 closed and open sites.
"I think we have expanded it as much as what seems feasible," director of child nutrition Robert Rolfe said. "We have good confidence that we are providing for the most needy portions of our community."
Children can come and get lunch at no cost without enrollment Monday to Friday at the 19 open sites: 17 stops along two “Meals On the Bus” routes and two drive-up sites at Apple Valley Middle and Glenn C. Marlow Elementary.
The buses roll through neighborhoods, honking their horns and welcoming children on board, who emerge minutes later with smiles holding plastic bags full of daily prepared food. On July 28, the lunch provided was a cheeseburger, fries and a peach cup. Due to requirements from the USDA, children must take every part of the meal even if they do not intent to eat it.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA issued wavers allowing children to take meals and leave, rather than eating on site, and allowing parents to pick up meals for their children. Rolfe said the nutrition department expected to see a significant increase in the number of children utilizing the Summer Meals program because of the pandemic, but that numbers have stayed consistent.
The Summer Meals program also provides free lunches to children in summer learning or partner programs, such as such as the Boys & Girls Club, The Salvation Army of Hendersonville, Helping Hand Developmental Center and WNCSource early childhood centers, which typically run Monday to Thursday.
"We serve a pretty big variety of needs in the summer," Rolfe said. "When we are operating some kind of summer learning programs within the school system, that's always great because it gives us more numbers to serve."
The open sites see a spike of attendance on Fridays, which points to the value of the program, said Amanda Jones, main administrator for the Summer Meals program.
To make the meals, employees show up as early as 6:30 a.m. to one of three school kitchens: Hendersonville Middle School, Apple Valley Middle or Glenn C. Marlow Elementary. These meals are then distributed out among the county to open and closed sites.
Families with questions may contact the HCPS Child Nutrition Department at (828) 891-6310. Families can also text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 to find summer meal open sites for children closest to their location.
This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: HCPS feeds 1,800 children daily with summer program