Throughout the summer, children 18 years of age and younger can get free meals during the week.
It’s part of the city’s Summer Servings Program which kicked off, Wednesday, in Broad Ripple.
Heavy rains kept the kids inside, but didn’t damper their enthusiasm for the program. Dozens of children stood in line to receive free lunches which included fruit, sandwiches and milk.
About 80 percent of Indianapolis Public School students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs, but as Indy Parks Director John Williams says, when school is out for summer, they lose access to those meals.
"We recognize that this is a worthwhile opportunity for us to make sure that these children have nutritious meals during that time in which they are not being served at school," said Williams. "Unfortunately, for a lot of kids during the summer months, this is going to be one of the meals that they really need."
Summer meals will be given out at 200 sites around the city during the summer, including 100 at Indy Parks.
The city is reimbursed with federal funds for the meals. Last year, more than $600,000 of breakfast, lunches and snacks were distributed and organizers expect it to be closer to $700,000 this year.
U.S. Rep. Andre Carson helped hand out meals Wednesday at the Broad Ripple Family Center and says the program is part of encouraging children to live healthier lives.
"It's interesting to me that we still haven't addressed the issue of hunger and poverty in our country," he said. "Over 300,000 Hoosiers are food insecure and studies have shown that when kids are nourished, their mental capacity is increased, their learning ability is enhanced, and the outputs are exponential."
Rachel Davidson with the Department of Education says another advantage of the program is that by giving young people access to meals, they often are more willing to try something new.
"We had students trying things they had never tried before, different types of fruits and vegetables," she said. "So, I don't have hard data or evidence in front of me, to say that 'yes, this is definitely making a difference or shaping their future eating habits,' but I would like to be optimistic in thinking that it does."
Deputy Superintendent of Operations for Indianapolis Public Schools Scott Martin says learning improves if students don’t have to worry about when their next meal is coming.
He applauds the summer servings program and says it ties in nicely with IPS’ new initiative announced last week by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee to provide free breakfast and lunch to all of it students.
He thinks the combo of the two has a chance to make a real difference in student achievement.
"Certainly it's going to continue to help change the culture at IPS," he said. "Dr. Ferebee wants to provide what's necessary for students to learn and for teachers to teach. If we can help that engagement on both sides, that just leads to a better school year. Students learn better. We get better test scores. Everybody feels better about the school year in general."
All the meals of the Summer Servings Program are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each child has access to two a day.
In its more than 40 year history, the Summer Servings Program has helped over one million children in Marion County.