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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Schools Prepare for Free Summer Meal Programs

Meals are prepared

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – This summer, children under 18 will be able to get breakfast and lunch for free through federally funded programs provided to local school districts. 

In a random survey, Lower Township Elementary School District, and Middle Township and Wildwood school districts plan to provide meals, although all the details are not yet ironed out, because of changing Covid pandemic guidance on end-of-year school events. 

Kurt Himstedt, food services supervisor, Lower Township Elementary School District, said meals will be available to any child 18 and under, as well as persons 18 and over with disabilities. 

“As an open site, this includes children who are not enrolled in the school and/or who do not reside in the area the school is located,” Himstedt said. Pickup sites and times will be announced and presented on the district’s website, http://lowertwpschools.com/index. 

All meals are provided free of charge to families through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Seamless Summer Option, which issued a national waiver (https://bit.ly/33ltU94) April 20 to extend the program through the school year ending June 2022, to support nutritious meals while minimizing exposure to Covid.  

The national waiver allows districts to serve families free of charge, meaning there are no forms or paperwork to complete, thereby reducing contact.  

It also facilitates the implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for safe school meal service, which include serving meals outdoors, or in classrooms. 

Himstedt said meals are prepared, bagged and served in prepackaged containers by the food services staff, who prepared and distributed over 100,000 meals to children in the community during the pandemic. 

“Distributing meals over this past year has been a collaboration of support from our Board of Education, administration, food services staff, guidance counselors, teachers, custodians, security staff, and the transportation department,” Himstedt explained. “The district has exemplified the meaning of teamwork across every department to provide the safest learning experience possible for our students.” 

Meals consist of food components to meet or exceed USDA meal pattern requirements, according to Himstedt, ensuring proper nutrition.  

“Entree options include ready-to-heat and serve pizza, cheeseburgers, fish sticks, chicken fajitas, oven-roasted chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly,” he said. “All entrees include a serving of fresh fruits and vegetables with milk and 100% fruit juice.”    

At Middle Township schools, food this summer will be distributed on Mondays, between noon-1:30 p.m., with the distribution sites still to be worked out, according to Dr. Diane Fox, business administrator.  

“The main site has been, and will continue to be, the Elementary No. 2 School cafeteria, 101 W. Pacific Ave., Court House. All families with students between the ages of 4-18 are eligible to receive the food; they just need to come to the distribution site and receive the food,” she said. 

Last summer, Fox said the district distributed between 550-630 bags per distribution day, five breakfasts and five lunches per bag.  

Currently, the USDA is allowing districts to feed all students, regardless of their income status. The bags of food are prepared by a food service vendor contracted by the district. 

Every student attending summer school will be fed both breakfast and lunch, Fox added. 

Wildwood schools are in the planning phase of their summer meal program, according to Superintendent J. Kenyon Kummings 

“Right now, we are focused on the end-of-year events, as we respond to the guidance that came out this (past) week that impacts prom, graduation, etc.,” he said. 

“We operate summer school programs for grades pre-K-12, so once the schedules are completed, we will be able to iron out the details regarding the mechanics of distribution, scheduling, number of participants, and meal types for the summer meal program,” he added. 

Separately, the Biden administration is expanding a program to feed as many as 34 million schoolchildren during summer, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March. 

The USDA announced April 26 it will continue through the summer a payments program that replaced school meals because the pandemic left many children with virtual classes (https://bit.ly/3utLnYP).  

According to a release, children are eligible for this temporary nutrition benefit – loaded onto an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that can then be used to purchase food – if they are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, or if they are under age 6 and live in a household participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

Families of eligible children typically receive $6.82 per child, per weekday, or roughly $375 per child over the summer. 

“The expansion of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits over the summer is a first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the U.S.,” stated Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a release. By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.” 

P-EBT was established in March 2020 to provide food dollars to families to make up for meals missed when schools were closed due to Covid. The program was set to expire Sept. 30, 2021, but through the American Rescue Plan Act, benefits are available for the duration of the pandemic, including during summer, the release continued. 

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com. 

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