The Madison and Fremont school districts are providing breakfasts and lunches to students and have been doing so since the first of the school year.
In Madison County, it was originally believed the food would only be provided through December, but the school district recently learned that it can continue with the program through the end of the school year in June.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a true blessing for our students and families in this chaotic time. For students with food insecurities, it’s a huge blessing. We’re very grateful,” said Madison Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas.
The food comes via the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security or $2 trillion economic relief package President Trump signed in March.
Four months later, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA would cover the cost of breakfast and lunches for all students.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs,” Perdue said.
Madison District’s Communications Coordinator Jessica Goudy says the food will help families impacted by COVID-19.
“This is one of those ways of making sure that kids are staying fed and taking some of that financial pressure off of families,” she said. “Anything to try and help get through this. Families that have been severely impacted whether from illness, hours being cut or being laid off, or their business being slow — whatever the struggle may be — it’s another way we’re able to, hopefully, relieve some of that financial burden.”
Normally, the district charges secondary students $1 for breakfast. Grade school youth may eat breakfast for free. Normal lunch rates are $2.50 for elementary school students and $2.75 for the middle school and high school youth lunches. Those qualifying for reduced meals pay 40 cents. It wasn’t known how much USDA would reimburse the school district for providing the lunches.
Goudy said she hoped that with the lunches, high school students will be more inclined to stay at school to eat. All students may also forgo homemade lunches for the free ones offered at school.
“We’re hoping that with students trying this out, they’ll see how great the different lunches are, and we’ll have some more school lunch converts. It will help boost that program. It’s an amazing program,” she said.
Goudy said that the school cooks put a lot of work into preparing the food.
“They truly care about the students. They don’t just serve lunch. They try to connect with the students,” Goudy said.
In Fremont County, students there will receive lunches from now through the end of the school year.
“Some of the kids already qualified for free lunches. Some already paid. Everyone will get free meals,” said the district’s Business Manager and Food Service Director Hali Mackert.
Prior to the free meal program, elementary and high school students paid $1.40 for breakfast. Grade school students paid $2 for lunch while secondary youth paid $2.25.
The free food will take some financial pressure off of families who may have several students attending school, Mackert said.
“I’m sure it’s helpful to everyone,” she said. “It’s providing relief to families.”
It wasn’t known if the Sugar-Salem School District was also using the USDA program.
The USDA reported that providing free food to school children will help the country recuperate from the devastating financial impact of COVID-19.
“This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. USDA has been and continues to be committed to using the congressionally appropriated funding that has been made available,” it said.