Callaway County students enjoy free meals

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There is such a thing as a free lunch.

Thanks to two federal programs, students in several school districts across Callaway County are able to enjoy free breakfasts and lunches.

“Since we have been doing the free breakfast and lunch through the nutrition program, the numbers have increased significantly,” New Bloomfield R-3 School District Superintendent Sarah Wisdom said at a school board meeting Thursday. “I would say by over 50 percent of both buildings for breakfast.”

Wisdom said after implementing the program earlier this month, about 200 kids a day are eating breakfast at New Bloomfield Elementary School.

“Kids are being fed and that’s what’s important,” Wisdom told the board.

New Bloomfield was the first to jump on the opportunity, but other county school districts have quickly followed suit.

As of Monday, South Callaway R-2 School District and Fulton Public Schools were all serving free breakfast and lunch to students as well. North Callaway R-1 School District is currently applying to be able to do the same.

The reasons local schools have been able to offer free meals is related to the pandemic. Just after the fall semester began, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was extending the Seamless Summer Option and the Summer Food Service Program — programs that in a typical year only provide meals in the summer, and are only accessible by school districts where large portions of the student body qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“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, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in an Aug. 31 news release.

The announcement caused a great deal of excitement and some confusion, as many districts across the country weren’t sure whether they qualified or how the initiatives would work.

New Bloomfield is providing meals through the Seamless Summer Option, while Fulton took advantage of the Summer Food Service Program, the same program it used to provide meals over the summer.

Meals are also available for students attending classes virtually.

Full breakfast and lunch trays are free, while a la carte items, such as extra cartons of milk, will still cost money.

It is unclear whether the meals will be available next semester — the USDA announcement set either Dec. 31 or until funds run out as the end date. Future funding will depend on the actions of Congress.

“I am very happy that we are able to provide free, nutritious meals at this time when we must all pull together to protect the health and well-being of our children,” South Callaway Superintendent Kevin Hillman said in a letter to parents.

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