At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, in the Coolavin Apartments complex on West Sixth Street, several young children sat on blankets, munching on sandwiches and socializing, as if they were on a picnic.
They were a few of the nearly 40 children who drop by at that time during the week to get a free, healthful lunch provided by Fresh Approach, a program of Employment Solutions.
"They won't let us inside the facilities," said Walt Barbour, director of Fresh Approach, "so the young mothers bring their kids and blankets and sit under a tree."
Fresh Approach is one of at least three programs in Fayette County that prepare breakfast and lunch for low-income children when school is out for the summer.
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Most of the children would be eligible for free or reduced meals during the school year when they can receive breakfast and lunch. That need doesn't stop when schools close.
The Summer Food Service Program for children, a service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides grants to the Kentucky Department of Education to provide nutritional meals, which are essential for learning.
Along with Fresh Approach, Fayette County Parks and Recreation Department in collaboration with the Fayette County Schools and God's Pantry Food Bank prepare meals in Lexington during the week so that children won't go hungry.
The sites are in schools that have a summer session, in day-care centers or summer camps, and in parks or community centers. Each site has been determined to be in low-income areas or near schools in which 50 percent of the enrollment is eligible for free and reduced lunches.
Still, though, just as Kentucky's unemployment rate is hovering around 10 percent — 7.7 percent in Fayette County — a recent report by the Food Research and Action Center said the number of children participating in the summer food programs was down 16.7 percent in Kentucky last year.
One reason for that, the report said, was that schools in Kentucky and many other states were forced by budget cuts to reduce or eliminate the number of summer programs offered.
Lisa Gross, state Department of Education spokesperson, said our state reduced the number of sites in some areas because of administrative shortcomings by sponsors. Other sites disappeared because sponsors could not come up with the up-front money, that would later be reimbursed, to start the service.
Barb Releford, controller for Employment Solutions, said they provide meals to 25 sites. The number of meals served is "slightly above what we did last year," Releford said. "It is the economy. There is definitely a need."
Parks and Recreation, which has school employees prepare the meals given out, has served 19,576 lunches as of June 30 in summer school and at park sites throughout the city, said Irene Gooding, acting director of the division of community development. During the same period last year, 15,721 meals had been served, she said.
"A lot of that increase has to do with a lot more children in summer school this year," she said.
And that is with three fewer sites because not enough 18-year-old site monitors could be hired.
Mandy Brajuha said God's Pantry didn't see any change in the number of children eating at the five sites it normally serves, but since adding Consolidated Baptist Church, the numbers have increased.
"We anticipate serving 10,000 meals this summer," Brajuha said.
So apparently the money is available to feed hungry children during the summer, but the number of sites may not be.
Gross said the department is always trying to recruit new sites just so more needs can be met.
"We are not hurting," she said. "It is just hard to find sponsors."
And that situation, she said, is true throughout the state.
If you see a need in your area and would like to become a sponsor, contact the state department of education's Division of Nutrition & Health Services at (502) 564-5625.