For most kids, summertime is a celebration of no school and no homework.
But for more than 670 Brown County kids, it’s also when they go hungry.
Those children are food-insecure, according to Hoosier Hills Food Bank. They don’t know where their next meal will come from, or don’t have enough nutritious food to eat.
Brown County Schools administrators know this. They’ve been offering free breakfasts and lunch weekdays this summer for anyone under 18.
Story continues below gallery
So do volunteers with the Brown County Weekend Backpacks program. They’ve been offering bags full of food to families throughout the summer.
The problem is that not enough people know about those services.
Here are four things you need to know about that aid:
1. Free summer lunch
Last week, Brown County Schools food service director Jason Kirchhofer closed a free lunch site at the Brown County YMCA after it served fewer than 10 children during the first half of summer. Last year, it was serving 10 to 15 per week.
Two other sites — at Brown County High School and Forest Hills Apartments — also have been open since May 31.
Forest Hills was a new site this year, open only to residents of the subsidized housing complex. It also serves breakfast. Kirchhofer had hoped to serve 30 to 40 kids a day there, but the site averages 12 to 20.
He had sent two mailings to Forest Hills residents informing them of the service.
“The numbers as expected are not as high as I’d hope them to be,” he said. “I don’t know if parents are not aware of the program.”
At the high school, an average of more than 100 children were served breakfast and lunch in June — higher than last year’s average at that site of 60 to 100. In July, 70 to 100 children have been served breakfast and lunch daily, Kirchhofer said.
Those stats include kids who attend day camps at the Nashville schools campus. All students are able to take advantage of free lunch regardless of family income.
This is the fourth year the district has participated in the program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s available only to districts with more than half of their students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program.
Brown County’s assistance rate for last school year was 52.6 percent.
“There’s a huge difference of students who need food (and students who are participating),” Kirchhofer said.
“That’s probably the biggest hurdle that we have in the program, is that we live in such a rural area … and trying to get students to a location is always going to be a struggle for us.”
2. Weekend backpacks
The Brown County Weekend Backpacks program has been offering free bags of food every Thursday this summer to families who have been on the free lunch program during the school year.
Parents can to come to the food services building across the street from the junior high school to pick up a bag from 4 to 6 p.m.
But so far, no parents have picked up any bags, program president Jan Swigert.
“I don’t understand (why), except we’re not reaching the people we need to reach,” she said.
During the last week of school, the group decided to extend the school year backpack program through summer, but they had to rely on schools to send letters to the parents, telling them food was still available.
To get on the backpack list during the school year, families need to respond to a letter that is sent home with students who are on the free and reduced-price lunch program.
Last school year, 54 volunteers packed 2,540 backpacks, which represented 15,240 meals for those students, Swigert said.
Kirchhofer delivers the filled backpacks to Helmsburg Elementary, Sprunica Elementary and the intermediate and junior high schools.
There are plans to start a program at the high school, too, but it may operate differently. For instance, students might be able to pick out their own food items when an announcement is made over the public address system.
“It’s going to take a little time for the high school,” Swigert said.
Van Buren Elementary School students get food from Nashville Christian Church and Christiansburg United Methodist Church volunteers, who run their own sort of backpack program.
They fill snack bags for 20 students for the weekend. Parents, teachers and community members submit names for the program to the school.
Loretta Wheeler is one of the six to seven women from the Christiansburg church who serve 14 students; John and Jeanne Robinson with Nashville Christian pack bags for six to eight students.
Bags include multiples of 11 to 12 different items, like granola bars and Pop Tarts.
“We don’t really know whether there’s anybody at home to help fix anything, so we give things they can open themselves, like fruit cups and applesauce cups,” Wheeler said.
3. School year relief
When the students return to school, several kinds of aid are available.
A form is now posted at apply.brownco.k12.in.us that parents can use to apply for the federal lunch program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture increased the income eligibility guidelines this school year, so more families may qualify.
Students who accept free and reduced-price lunch benefits also can have their book fees waived, said Debbie Harman, director of student learning. They would only have to pay course fees, which range from $2 to $15 per subject.
Families need to apply for the program by mid-October so the district can be reimbursed by the state for those waived fees.
One problem that arises when signing students up for the lunch program is that some parents think they only have to apply once the entire time their child is enrolled in the district.
“Applications are only good for the year it’s filled out, and (for) the first 30 operating days of the next school year, which means that the parents and students who filled out the free-and-reduced application last year, they will only be good until Sept. 18 of this next year,” Kirchhofer said.
Kirchhofer also works with the Brown County Weekend Backpacks program. He said a fear of being stigmatized keeps some parents from signing up for assistance.
4. Free lunch for everyone?
In April, U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, introduced legislation that would increase the number of automatically eligible students required for a school to be able to serve free lunch to all of its students.
Right now in Brown County schools, only individual students whose family income or situation qualifies them for the benefit receive free lunch here.
If Rokita’s bill were to become law, it would not have an effect on Brown County Schools, because the district doesn’t offer free lunch to every student regardless of income, Kirchhofer said.
Rokita’s Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 would increase the threshold of direct certification from 40 to 60 percent of students in order for a school to be eligible to serve free lunch to all of its students using the community-eligibility provision.
“Direct certification” includes families that receive SNAP, TANF or some type other type of state/federal assistance, as well as homeless students, Head Start students, migrant youth and foster children.
Right now, if a school wishes to use the community-eligibility provision to feed every student for free, 40 percent of students in a school building must be directly certified.
No Brown County schools qualify using that provision to feed all students for free. As of July 1, Kirchhofer counted 352 students in the entire district who met the criteria.
Even if one school was to qualify, that wouldn’t mean all of the other schools in the district would, Kirchhofer said.
For example, if Helmsburg Elementary qualified to feed all students for free and a student were to move to a different school, it could throw the percentage off enough that the school would have to go back to charging for lunch again, Kirchhofer said.
“That is one of the reasons why this is not something that we’ve done at this point,” he said.
“I don’t see it having an effect on Brown County Schools, but I think it’s a poke at taking away meals,” he said about Rokita’s bill, which is awaiting approval by the House Budget Committee.
“It’s going to hurt those schools that do have the 40-percent threshold and move them to 60. Now, they’re going to make them pay and they’re going to actually not be able to feed kids.”
Brown County High School
Breakfast: 9:30 to 10 a.m.
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Meals served weekdays through July 29.
Forest Hills Apartments
Breakfast: 9:30 to 10 a.m.
Lunch: 11 to 11:30 a.m.
This site is open to Forest Hills residents only.
Meals served weekdays through July 29.
Price at all sites: Free for those under 18, $3.10 for adults