With Early Childhood Connections preparing to move across town over the summer, Hays USD 489’s free summer lunch program will be offered at the Hays Public Library.
Lunches will be served in the Schmidt Gallery of the library, 1205 Main, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays from May 28 to Aug. 2.
In previous years, the lunches were served at ECC, 305 Main, but the program will be moving to its classrooms to 2501 E. 13th for the 2019-2020 school year.
The Summer Snack Shack offered last year at the library will return as well. Free snacks will be served from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays in the children’s department on the second floor.
Keeping the program downtown was a necessity, said Jessica Younker, director of nutrition services for USD 489.
“The way the rules are for the federal programs, there’s only so many neighborhoods in Hays that we can host a lunch program that’s free for all kids, and the downtown area is a neighborhood that allows that,” she said.
Younker said the library was eager to offer its gallery when she was looking for a new location. Meagan Zampieri, HPL youth services manager, said accommodating the lunch program hasn’t taken much work.
“We have a little gallery kitchen. It’s not a full-service kitchen by any means, but it’s space for serving,” Zampieri said.
The meals will be cooked at one of the district schools and transported to the library.
“We’re carrying over some of our warming equipment and our milk coolers and our salad bar. It’s still going to be a full, fresh meal like it was in the past years and like it is during the school year,” Younker said.
The Friends of the Hays Public Library had a book sale to clear out some space in a storage room off the gallery to store the equipment, Zampieri said.
The lunches are free to anyone under the age of 18. They do not have to be students of USD 489, nor do they have to be residents of Hays. Adults can also have lunch for $3.75.
The summer lunch program has served about 5,500 in past years, or between 100 and 200 a day. The snack program served between 60 to 80 children a day in its first year, Younker said.
Those numbers should not be a problem for the library, Zampieri said.
“We can fit pretty comfortably abut 60 people at the tables. Fitting that many people at a time means that we might have to move things along in an organized fashion, but that won’t be too difficult. Children tend to eat pretty fast,” she said.
Some of the library’s summer programming, such as story time and an astronaut training academy, were designed around the food programs, Zampieri said.
The adult department’s Feed and Film series on Wednesdays will take a break over the summer, then start up again in the fall, she said.
ECC will be relocating from the former Washington Elementary School on south Main to the former Oak Park Medical Complex on East 13th. The four buildings are undergoing renovation, and ECC is scheduled to have most of its classrooms open there for the 2019-2020 school year.
Younker said it’s possible the summer lunch program will continue at the library in future years.
“We just want to serve the most number of kids that can benefit from it, so we just want to be where the kids are. If this summer goes well, we’ll probably continue it at the library. If not, we’ll look into other options,” she said.