Around 50 children made their way to Arma Library during lunchtime yesterday to chow down on a grilled cheese, veggies and wash it all down with a nice cold milk.

This is USD 246’s second year offering the federally-funded summer lunch program, which gives the children a free meal and a chance to mingle with friends. Brenda Banks, library director, helped introduce the program last summer, and said the number of children being served continues to grow.

“We’re doing good,” she said.

Banks said the school served 2,900 meals in June – that’s at least 400 more than last year.

The district is reimbursed over three dollars per meal. That reimbursement is to cover the district’s cost for food and the wages to have the food cooked.

Banks, along with the district’s superintendent and food service director calculated the district will need to serve at least 100 meals a day to break even – the program averaged 139 meals a day in June.

She said the meals fall under the school lunch guidelines and require at least two ounces of protein, fruit, vegetable and a milk.

“It’s perfectly balanced, not a lot of salt, not a lot of sugar and not a lot of fat.”

The program is offered in June and July at three locations and is free to children ages 1 to 18, regardless of their family’s income. The district qualified for the program due to the number of students receiving a free or reduced lunch during the school year.

“At least 50 percent of kids in school district have to receive free or reduced meals” to be eligible, Banks said, adding somewhere between 60 to 70 percent of students in USD 246 receive a free or discounted meals.

“I don’t know any school districts that don’t qualify in Southeast Kansas,” she said.

The summer lunches are available to any child, she said, even if they are from out of state. All the child has to do is make it to one of the three locations.

The food is cooked at the Northeast High School, then volunteers bring the food to the Arma Library, community center in Arcadia and the senior center in Mulberry.

Arma location serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., Arcadia from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and in Mulberry from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The meals are free to children, adults can also buy a lunch for $3.75.

Banks said the increase in children getting lunches was due in part to increased awareness. Also, it gives the children a chance to socialize with their friends. Despite the growth, Banks said her mission is not complete.

“My goal is that every child in Southeast Kansas will have a meal during the summertime,” she said. “So I will be working on that this year.”