Feed the children

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Community News, Featured

Published on July 02, 2012 with No Comments

Hobart schools do not stop nutrition assistance in the off-season

It seems like such a simple idea: Children do not stop eating in the summer. So let’s feed those that otherwise would not get enough all summer long.

Of course, simple ideas – even those based in strong principles – often become overly complex once theory meets application.

Not so in Hobart.

The Summer Food Service Program planted the seeds of this idea only three years ago. In this, the third summer, it is a strong, flourishing tree of life, with more folks coming aboard each season.

The person in charge is the schools’ food service director, Nancy Smith.

She is quick to not take credit.

“When you have leadership like we have, from the school superintendent Dr. Peggy Buffington through the school board and all of us who work here, it happens,” Smith said.

“The level of support we get here is great. Having a vision, so supportive of a school board, a supportive administration, makes even a far-fetched idea work.”

Buffington has fashioned a career at not turning away any ideas. She has the school board backing, which makes suggestions all the easier to make.

The “far-fetched idea” this year is a mobile school service delivery truck. It allows all the food to be easily delivered to the myriad of serving sites. In fact, it allows the schools to not be locked into using only their own buildings as places to eat.

The program is sponsored through the United States Department of Agriculture.

As Smith explained, “Any school district that has a free and reduced cost percentage with 50 percent (of students) or greater eligible can host a site in their area.”

In Hobart, that means multiple sites. Partners like the American Legion, the VFW, the YMCA, the parks department and even at least one low-income apartment complex have all become summertime restaurants for children. Anyone aged 18 or under is eligible to come and eat for free.

It is important that there is no registration required. No forms, no qualifications checked. If, as Smith observed, a child has cousins visiting and they want to eat, then they can come on down, too.

Even breakfast is supplied at two sites, the YMCA and, once a week, at the Hobart Food Pantry on distribution day there.

Here is the weekly menu:
Monday: Nachos and cheese, refried bean dip with salsa, apple wedges, milk
Tuesday: Chef salad with mixed greens, diced ham, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, homemade croutons and salad dressing choice, kiwi and grapes, milk.
Wednesday: Turkey wrap, broccoli and baby carrots with ranch dip, chocolate chip cookie, milk.
Thursday: Ham and cheese on wheat bread, chips, orange wedges, milk.
Friday: PB&J un-crustable sandwich, grapes, tomatoes and cucumber slices with ranch dip, milk.
An alternate choice of fruit/vegetable offered each day

The sites: 

Breakfast at Hobart YMCA, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.; Hobart Food Pantry 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Thursdays.

Lunch: Mundell Field 11:30 a.m.to 1:30 p.m.; Hobart YMCA 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (campers) and 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Mobile route No. 1: George Earle Elementary School (front grass) 11:10 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.; Hansen Park 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.; Hobart Arts League 12:25 to 12:55 p.m.;  Lake in the Woods (front parking lot) 1:05 to 1:35 p.m.; Cressmoor Lanes (parking lot) 1:45 to 2:15 p.m.

Mobile route No. 2: Hobart Middle School (front drive) 11:15 to 11:30 a.m. (Mon-Thurs); Hobart City Pool 11:40 a.m. to noon; Arbor Lane Park (playground) 12:15 to12:35 p.m.; Liberty Elementary School (playground) 12:40 to 1 p.m.; American Legion Post 54 (picnic table area) 1:10 to 1:30 p.m.; VFW Post 5365 (picnic area) 1:40 to 2 p.m.

“This is definitely a community effort over here,” Smith said. “So may organizations have just jumped in. The parks and the YMCA have been with us since the beginning.”

In fact, she said, moms will bring the kids to parks and stay to make a day of it.

“We had the biggest struggle, at the start, of just getting the kids to come to the sites. Once word got around, that was not a problem anymore.

“One of parks was not in an area that I thought would be as well-attended,” Smith said. “It is now one of our more-popular sites.”

They make the food from scratch at the schools’ food service department. And then they’re off delivering. “I was watching the Food Channel and I saw this delivery idea in another state and I thought, ‘why not?’ It works with existing staff and existing vehicles,” Smith said.

And there’s another community plus. The work keeps employment year-round for Smith and her group. That means no summer layoffs.  What’s more is the sense of really helping the children.

Children learn better when they are healthy. Food keeps them healthy; Smith can make and deliver the food. No losers.

“We had for a dessert kiwi and grapes,” she said. “It was fascinating to see the reaction to kiwi. They liked it, even if they did not know what it was. So, maybe, they ask their parents and gain another healthy snack.”

That’s another aim of the program: healthy food. Smith does not allow vending machines in any of the corporation’s schools. She has strict limits on what vendors will be allowed to place in schools. This fall, they will already implement the new USDA guidelines for healthy eating, well ahead of the required timetable.

Perhaps a whole generation will grow up appreciating natural fruits and vegetables as opposed to fast foods.

Smith has even dealt with critics who say, for instance, that food stamps are enough. The comments they get sometimes reflect this idea that government is doing too much.

“How can you too much for children,” is her response.  “This is definitely a community effort, a corporation effort.”

Buffington sums it up: “Our food service department, in partnership with the USDA, is doing a terrific job bringing healthy meals to our students this summer.”

For more information, contact the School City of Hobart at 219-947-2413 or visit www.hobart.k12.in.us.

Robert Velasco is driving the truck deliveries.

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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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