Free food in the summer is a hard deal to beat, but the USD 257 summer food program has seen low attendance in the past few years. Kathy Koehn, USD 257’s food service coordinator, has a plan to change that.
Koehn attended a food service summit in Topeka in February. It was there she learned Kansas ranked 48th in summer food program participation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged food service coordinators not just to focus on students who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year. The summit motivated Koehn to find ways to increase participation in Iola’s program.
“I don’t want this program to focus on any group of people,” she said. “It’s about wanting to feed kids.”
The program is free for children ages 1 to 18.
Many kids during the summer baby-sit their siblings or are active in various programs while their parents work. Last year the summer food program was offered at the high school cafeteria and Lincoln Elementary School because SAFE BASE was stationed there. Lincoln served only breakfast and SAFE BASE will not have a summer program this year.
The meals program will run June 1-Aug. 7.
Koehn decided the best way to reach more kids was to expand service locations, by creating “hot spots.”
“We will offer a couple of remote sites and they will have sack lunches and we also will have the cafeteria serving hot lunch,” Koehn said.
Sites will be Trinity United Methodist Church, 228 S. Kentucky St., Riverside Park and the Iola High School Cafeteria, 300 E. Jackson Ave.
Trinity and the high school will serve breakfast and lunch and Riverside Park only will have lunches. The program received help from Iola Area Ministerial Association and Koehn said many churches offered volunteers or locations. Organizations throughout the community also have offered to help with the program.
KOEHN WANTED to find where kids would be in the summer. She knew the park would be a hot spot for swimmers and Trinity would benefit children on the south side of town.
She created a “Willy Wonka Golden Ticket,” idea for the sack lunches.
“I wanted it to be fun and get the kids to participate so I came up with putting prizes in random sack lunches,” she said.
The City of Iola has donated swim passes, Sonic Equipment movie passes, Country Lanes Bowling Alley passes, Walmart T-shirts, and Thrive Allen County gift cards for the Allen County Farmers Market. Koehn has applied for a SEED grant from Allen County Community Foundation in hopes of providing more prizes for the children.
OPAA, the schools food service provider, will create meals. The nutrition guidelines are not as strict as during the school year.
There will be a variation of meals and sack lunches will not have a cold sandwich every day, Koehn said.
OPAA plans to have creative meals. Recently, Robert Thompson, assistant director at OPAA, won a recipe contest with Tyson Kitchen on his recipe for a healthier version of pizza.
Koehn said she couldn’t stress enough that the meals are free for children. She would like to see more junior and senior high students attend the program and possibly expand locations to Gas and LaHarpe.
Adults who bring children to the program may eat for $3.45. As part of USDA rules, children may not take meals off site.
Times for each location have yet to be set. Updates will be given through the district website, The Register and local radio.
For more information, call Koehn at 620-365-4700.