JOHNSTOWN — Religious organizations will provide free lunches this summer at the downtown bandshell in the absence of a formal school-based program by the Greater Johnstown School District.
District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn updated the board on summer lunches at the Board of Education meeting at Johnstown High School.
Kilburn previously noted the district will not be offering free lunches this summer, as it had in the past at Warren Street Elementary School. The program might be unsafe to operate with planned daily capital construction projects, district officials say.
The superintendent contacted the area Council of Churches, which said it will provide 30 days of lunches this summer at the downtown Jenner Bandshell on West Main Street. Kilburn said bag lunches will be provided from noon to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. She said Fridays are being looked at too.
Kilburn said she is “thankful” to the Council of Churches, and signage is being worked on to advertise the program.
She also said she drafted a letter to solicit food items from agencies supporting the Food Backpack Program, which helps students in need. Items are currently donated from the regional food bank. The program has volunteers discreetly put food items in the children’s backpacks.
Children would have to come to the former Johnstown YMCA building to pick up goods, Kilburn said.
“The food bank will have items to contribute throughout the year,” said board President Kathryn Zajicek. “This could really blossom into another effort of community cooperation.”
The board also discussed alternative lunches, if kids can’t afford the regular lunch at school. The board discussed possible forms for families to fill out, and whether peanut butter sandwiches can be provided in Johnstown like at other districts.
“We want to consider an alternative process,” Kilburn said
It was noted that some school districts like Johnstown have to charge for lunches, and some such as the Gloversville Enlarged School District don’t. The decision is based on the percentage of district families that qualify for public assistance, officials said.
Board member Jennifer Sponnoble said some kids are “lunch shamed” when they don’t have money for the regular lunch.
“I don’t want the board to be squabbling over pennies, especially when it comes to poverty,” she said.
Sponnoble said she wants the business office to take care of such issues, instead of teachers, aides and families.
School Business Manager Alice Sise said she agrees with Sponnoble. She said the district has had “disciplinary conversations” with food service staff. She said no one wants kids crying in the lunch line. She said some kids are given stickers, as the district is trying to make lunch time “more fun for the children.”
But, Sise said her office needs to know the problems involved in paying for the lunches.
Zajicek said lunch should be a time of “socialization” for students.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]