The Cruisin’ Cafe is hard to miss.
Wrapped in bright blue and a beach scene, the school bus stands out when it stops in parking lots and mobile home parks.
Hardin County Schools officials are hoping children and families recognize the bus and climb aboard for a free lunch. After a few days on the road, children and families are taking advantage of it, but officials say it will take time to build participation. The bus is the newest addition to Hardin County Schools’ summer meals program, which includes three school locations.
Officials have said the goal of the bus is to reach children who can’t make it to one of the schools for lunch. The Cruisin’ Cafe, a repurposed school bus, makes four stops in Elizabethtown and Radcliff each weekday.
“It’s a blessing to be a part of it,” said Ann Tinker, one of the food service workers staffing the bus. “Yesterday was truly humbling.”
The mobile route began Tuesday, the first day of the summer meal program for HCS, and about 37 meals were served, said Josey Crew, child nutrition director for the district.
“I thought we did good for our first day,” she said.
Any child 18 and younger can receive a free lunch at the bus or sites around the area. Meals are offered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at College View Education Center, North Hardin High School and Radcliff Elementary School. Other school districts and organizations also are serving free meals.
To find a summer meal site in your area, text FOOD to 877-877.
The Cruisin’ Cafe stops first at Hardin County Day Treatment on Westport Road. From there, it goes to Ponderosa Manor Mobile Home Park and then Bible Baptist Church in Radcliff. The route ends at Paradise Mobile Home Park in Radcliff.
According to the schedule, each stop lasts about 30 minutes, starting at 10:30 a.m. Crew said she might adjust the schedule because stops are lasting longer than 30 minutes.
Children who eat on the bus also can take home a book.
Crew said the district determined bus stops by talking with staff at Family Resource and Youth Service Centers.
“They know the kiddos more than anybody,” she said. “They knew the areas that would best benefit from this.”
Crew said HCS looked at 10 sites that were narrowed down to the four. She said they were looking for areas where they could serve many people at once.
Other school districts in Kentucky have introduced mobile routes to their summer meal programs, including LaRue County Schools. Crew said those districts have found it takes time to get a mobile route off the ground.
At this point, she’s not sure what a successful summer for the Cruisin’ Cafe would entail.
By the second day, the Cruisin’ Cafe already had regulars.
Robin McMillen brought her four children to the bus stop at Westport Road for the second day.
“I thought this was the coolest thing,” she said. “I was thinking them driving around and trying to feed the kids is amazing.”
After Tuesday, she told everyone about the new lunch spot on Westport Road, she said.
McMillen said last year, she took her children for lunch at Central Hardin High School. But she didn’t want to go to a school for lunch this year.
“I love it because they get nutritious food, and they are getting a book,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
On Wednesday, students chose between a chicken sandwich or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Meals also come with a carton of milk, fruit, vegetable and snack. Adults can eat for $3.
New children also came for lunch.
“I’m glad we are getting new kids,” Tinker said. “It shows it’s going to grow.”
Michael Watson, a sophomore at North Hardin High School, stepped into the bus for the first time Wednesday. He said he will spread the word about the bus and the free lunch.
“I think it’s a nice thing for the kids to get a free lunch,” he said, adding he plans to come back.