Free meals a boon to many

Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Keisha Hall, 4-year-old daughter of Tom and Crystal Hall, was among youngsters eating breakfast at the Iola High School cafeteria this morning.

Numbers are up for those taking advantage of the summer breakfast and lunch program provided by USD 257. Colleen Riebel, food service director, would like more.
“We’re here to cook and we might as well cook for more,” Riebel said this morning, while Jane Hill, one of the breakfast cooks, prepared muffins and ham patties.
Breakfast and lunch are free to anyone 18 or younger. The food program is federally subsidized and has been a fixture in the local school district for years. Adults are also welcome for a charge of $2 for breakfast and $3 for lunch.
Breakfast is served in two locations: In the Iola High School cafeteria from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. for the general public and at Lincoln Elementary School for students involved with the summer SAFE BASE program. In July, students attending summer school can receive breakfast at Jefferson Elementary School.
All lunches are served in the high school cafeteria, directly east of the high school, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The program started June 1 and will continue each weekday, except July 3, until July 31.
“I’d like to keep our numbers up in July, but without SAFE BASE they usually fall off,” Riebel said. Though, vacation Bible schools in nearby churches usually cause breakfast numbers to spike.
Through the first eight days of the program, 2,573 lunches were served, up 221 or 9 percent over the 2,352 lunches served the first eight days of 2008. Adult participation has averaged 50 for lunch, 30 for breakfast. Breakfast numbers range from 150 to 200.
“I don’t know if the increase in lunch numbers is a sign of the economic times or just that people are more familiar with the program,” Riebel said. “Maybe a little of each.”
She said transportation to the cafeteria might keep some kids away. A bus route two years ago through east Iola, Gas and LaHarpe didn’t pan out. “Only one person rode the bus,” Riebel recalled.
A breakfast/lunch menu was posted for all June and another will be for July. The menus are available for the asking at the cafeteria.
Lunch numbers spike for certain entrees.
“The first time we had chicken and noodles we had 312 for lunch and the second time 319,” Riebel said. “And, we had 350 for chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese.”
All main courses, except chicken nuggets, are made by cooks at the cafeteria and bread and rolls are baked fresh two or three times a week.
In addition to Riebel, nine others — cooks, servers, monitors and a truck driver/custodian — are employed during the program’s two-month run.