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DISTRICT GETS CHEWED OUT FOR MOVING MEALS

SHARE DISTRICT GETS CHEWED OUT FOR MOVING MEALS

There's no such thing as a free lunch, even when you're trying to give it away.

Provo City School District officials are learning that lesson the hard way. In the third year of offering free summer meals, the district is moving the giveaway from the Franklin Elementary School to the city's Pioneer Park pavilion at 500 West and Center Street.Vaughn T. Hawkes, coordinator of purchasing and food services, said the district is getting calls from residents who think "it would be a terrible place" for the meal distribution.

If the clamor becomes too vigorous, Hawkes said, the program will simply be discontinued, although it's been a major success for the past two years.

"The basis for this started with the Concept Key program," said Hawkes, "A couple of years ago a group came to us with a grant written to get funding for day care and meals for kids off-track with the regular school year.

"They came to me and asked for a way to provide breakfast and lunch for the kids who suddenly had three weeks off while their parents were still working.

"I never thought they'd get a yes but they did," said Hawkes.

"We started offering the program here at Franklin for those kids and then expanded it to the summer meals program."

Last year, almost 600 children a day participated in the free lunch. A good number came for the breakfast, too.Most are youngsters who live in the Franklin School area, but they don't have to be, said Hawkes.

Anyone under 18 may eat for free. Those over 18 can purchase either the lunch or the breakfast for a nominal fee.

"We have tourist families join us sometimes, and that's OK," said Hawkes.

While the district must have a school site that serves more than 50 percent free or reduced-lunch meals to qualify for program funding, those eating lunch or breakfast do not have to prove need.

The district is fully reimbursed for the costs and does not draw on government subsidy foods for the meals. In fact, during the summer, the menu often features hamburgers or pizza provided by a local retailer.

This year, the meals are offered at the park because Franklin Elementary is undergoing demolition and reconstruction work and Hawkes felt it would be hazardous to have children coming there to eat.

However, opponents to the free lunch feel the park provides a variety of hazards as worrisome as the construction at the school, including an open canal along the park's east side, increased vulnerability to strangers and unclean serving and eating facilities.

"We didn't build the park," said Hawkes. "The problems these people see are problems that have existed for years with the park. We'll be bringing in supervision and cleanup crews. We won't be increasing the load because most of the kids are kids that are already there.

"We feel good about the program. We've had a tremendous outpouring of gratitude on the part of parents who appreciate this. For many of the kids, it's the only meals they'll get.

"But," said Hawkes, "if the furor grows, we'll disband."