Each day they come by the hundreds to sites throughout the area, their stomachs rumbling and looking for a hearty meal.
These children are part of the more than 1,000 students who receive free lunches daily in the Connellsville area.
“The program is important because these children are still able to receive a healthy meal during the summer when their parents may be working,” said Junie Clawson, food service director for Connellsville Area School District.
About 2 million children annually receive free meals in the summer through a federal program that has been in existence since 1969, with 3,000 of those children in Fayette County.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service program targets low-income areas where students receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. The summer program picks up where the school program ends.
“Because over 50 percent of our area gets free or reduced lunches during the school year, then during the summer we can serve free to everyone,” Clawson said.
The state Department of Education is another sponsor of the program, reimbursing the schools for costs of the lunches.
Connellsville Area serves lunches in six of the district’s eight elementary schools. The only schools where lunch is not served are Clifford Pritts Elementary and Connellsville Township Elementary.
Children younger than 18 are eligible to receive the lunches. Adults also are welcome to eat lunch at the sites, although they are required to pay a fee.
Southmoreland School District Food Service Director Doris Bowman said she has been surprised by the number of adults that eat lunch at summer lunch programs.
“They will bring their kids out for lunch, and they will just buy lunch too,” Bowman said.
Bowman said Southmoreland has been serving approximately 230 children each month at five sites, four of which are outside.
“The Department of Education prefers you hold (the lunches) outside because the kids are outside, but they still need to be fed,” she said.
Bowman and Clawson said they have received a lot of positive feedback from parents since the start of the programs.
“A lot of times they will say how appreciative they are because their kids are getting a nutritious meal at a low cost,” she said.