Summer meals help to keep local children fed

Published 7:35 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2017

For many students, school is the only place to get a decent meal, so what happens when school is out for the summer?

It was that exact concern that led Jessamine County Schools Child Nutrition Director, Karen Barden, to promote a summer meal program.

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“We see them [students] all through the winter, and they would come back to school and some of them would be so scruffy and hungry,” said Barden, who has been with JCS for the past 21 years. “Not all children have meals in the summer, and we just wanted to give them a hot meal and make sure that they were fed at least one meal a day, and two if we could do it.”

She said the district’s participation in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program provides a way to help families in need of assistance during the summer months.

“This help can make all of the difference for those families on a tight budget and struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

Barden, with the help of many others, restarted the summer feeding program in 2009, after it shut down for a period of time due to low participation. Those six sites fed 5,900 children that summer. The number rose to 9,300 meals in 2010. Last summer, 2016-2017 school year, 15,972 meals were counted.

“It just took off,” Barden said. “We started in on a little basis with just Nicholasville Elementary, and then we added more sites.”

This year, up to the end of June, the program has already provided 10,499 meals at the 11 different sites in the county.

“I am sure we will far surpass last year’s meal count,” Barden said pointing out that in the past 8 years the program has almost doubled in sites and participation.

Volunteers play an integral role in the program by assisting with site set-up, supervision and serving meals.

“We have faith-based community partners who are willing to operate sites that we would not have the manpower to open, if not for them,” Barden said.

The Jessamine County Public Library also partners with the program and travels to each site at least once a week, providing creative activities for the kids.

“We are very thankful for everyone who helps to make the program a big success,” Barden said.

With the program, various hot food items such as pizza, hamburgers, chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes are provided. Each site offers its own unique way to enjoy the meal. At some, there are shelters and picnic tables, while other sites provide a school cafeteria environment and some simply offer blankets spread out on the ground.

“We do anything we can to feed these kids,” she said.

Barden said any children 18 and under are encouraged to come, the program is for every child to enjoy, not just the ones who need it.

“If everyone participates, it takes the stigma off of the ones that do actually need the meal,” Barden said.

Sites range from Hayden Park on 198 Jefferson Street in Nicholasville to Wilmore Elementary School in Wilmore. Each one offers lunch and some offer breakfast. No registration or fees are necessary, just show up hungry. For a full list of locations and times visit