The Pickerington Local School District this summer will seek to address hunger in the local community and beyond through a new, lunch-assistance program.
For the first time, the Pickerington district has established a Summer Feeding Program, whereby anyone ages 1 to 18 who's in need of food can receive a free lunch.
The Summer Feeding initiative is offered after the district forged a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand Pickerington's free-and-reduced breakfast and lunch programs.
Those established programs provide meals at no cost or at reduced prices for Pickerington students who qualify financially.
The Summer Feeding Program, however, will be even more inclusive, said Judy Riley, the district's food service director.
It will be available to anyone, ages 1 to 18, at Tussing Elementary School, 7117 Tussing Road, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays, from June 9 to July 25.
"We're federally funded by the USDA," Riley said. "We'll cook and serve the food on-site, and we are reimbursed by the USDA."
Riley said about 26 percent of Pickerington's 10,200 students receive breakfast and lunches for free or at reduced prices.
The district decided to administer the summer program at Tussing because 56 percent of the school's students qualify for free or reduced food, and because the school extends summer intervention -- or summer school -- coursework.
However, Riley said the Summer Feeding Program won't just be limited to Pickerington Local School District students, and there are no qualification requirements to take advantage of the offerings.
"This is open to anyone (ages 1 to 18)," she said. "Technically, people in Lancaster can come up and get lunch.
"Anyone can come from those age groups and the meals are free," Riley said.
"There's no application to fill out. You show up and you get your lunch."
Riley said all food provided through the program must be consumed on-site.
She also said meals will not be served on July 3 or 4.
Otherwise, she said it's an open-invitation to people in need of nourishment, and she said expects there will be demand.
"I've been to conferences and heard startling statistics that one in four children in Ohio go hungry," she said. "There are hungry children in our state of Ohio.
"We created this to provide for them."
Pickerington Superintendent Rob Walker agreed there is a need for food assistance throughout the central Ohio region, and said he endorsed the Summer Feeding Program.
He said Lancaster City Schools offered a similar program while he was superintendent of that district, and it provided an essential service to young people there.
"It's a tremendous opportunity and a help in the summer for our students," Walker said.
"It really helps out many families, our students, in a time when they need it."
Riley said the USDA has agreed to fund the PLSD program for this summer.
If the program is extended into the future, she said, the district will attempt to tweak it based on the hunger needs of the area and the costs associated with providing food to them.
"Our fear, of course, is running out of food," Riley said. "We don't have any trends to go on.
"This is the test, the pilot year. We'll take that data and make adjustments if they're needed."