A Pickerington Local School District pilot program to provide free nourishment to the hungry this summer not only achieved its objective, but also sparked buy-in by the public at large, according to the district's food service director.
From June 9 to July 25, the Pickerington Local School District provided weekday lunches at no cost at Tussing Elementary School to anyone age 1 to 18, no questions asked.
The Summer Feeding Program was offered for the time this year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided funding to allow the district to expand free-and-reduced breakfast and lunch programs previously given only during the school year.
According to District Food Service Director Judy Riley, it was an overwhelming success.
"In June, we provided 1,828 meals and in July we provided 1,480 meals," Riley said. "We averaged about 100 meals a day.
"It was very successful. I'm glad we were able to provide it to those students in need and to those in the community in need."
Riley and former Pickerington superintendent Rob Walker chose to establish the Summer Feeding Program this year after learning of the USDA funding.
But they were further compelled after learning more about the need in Pickerington and beyond.
"It all comes down to that poverty level and that need," Riley said. "It's disheartening to know that 1 in 4 children in Ohio go hungry."
Riley estimated the largest group of Summer Feeding Program beneficiaries were students in grades K-6, but noted a number of older people up to 18 were served.
She said many parents and grandparents regularly brought their children and grandchildren to Tussing for lunch, and an area daycare center brought its students to lunch one day.
Beyond that, she said the program was a good experience for her food service staff, which spent about two hours each lunchtime preparing and cooking the food, and a number of student and community volunteers who did everything from serve meals to clean up.
Riley also singled out Katelyn Sattler, who created "Sign-Up Genius," an online registration that helped recruit adult volunteers.
"There were lots of smiles," Riley said. "The employees enjoyed working.
"It was only a couple hours a day and they enjoyed helping people in need. It really gave them a good feeling.
"It really was a positive program. I'm glad we ran it. The word got out and it kind of just grew."
Riley said the district is evaluating the Summer Feeding Program to determine if it can be brought back next summer and if it can be expanded to other buildings.
It was held at Tussing this year because that school has the highest percentage of students who receive food assistance.
In 2013-14, 26 percent of Pickerington's 10,200 students received some form of breakfast and lunch assistance, Riley said.
"If that (USDA) funding is available next year, we will definitely look into it," she said.