Children in Hays this summer will have an additional option for free food with the Snack Shack weekdays at the Hays Public Library.

Hays USD 489 is adding the afternoon snack option to its long-running summer food service program that offers free lunches to children.

The programs begin May 29 and will offer free food to those 18 and under weekdays through Aug. 3. The programs are part of the federal Summer Food Service Program. Children do not have to be students of USD 489 or even residents of Hays to participate.

Jessica Younker, USD 489 nutrition services director, said the Snack Shack is a good step to growing the free service.

“I wanted to grow the program somehow and there’s only so many neighborhoods that we can run a free program for the summer,” she said.

The areas that are eligible for the free programs are dictated by Census maps of income levels in the community. In Hays, those areas are generally southwest Hays and a northeast section of the city.

Younker said the serving location at Early Childhood Connections, 305 Main, has worked well with its proximity to Hays Aquatic Park.

“In a perfect world we would have it in a more central location to where more kids would have access to it. But they way the map is, that’s made the most sense so far,” she said.

Transportation, available facilities and the number of staff willing to work over the summer also are factors to where and how the program can expand, Younker said.

Although the library is in the same neighborhood as Community Connections, it was a good choice for the program’s first expansion, she said.

“We didn’t want to do another lunch program so close to the one we already have, so we thought snacks would be great,” she said.

Last summer, the school district served about 5,500 free lunches, or between 100 and 200 a day.

The district at one time also offered a free breakfast during summers, but served only about 30 to 40 children a day, so discontinued that.