Summer meal programs busy
Summer youth meal programs in the Holton and Royal Valley school districts have seen good responses this year, according to food service directors in both districts.
The Summer Food Service Program, a federally-funded, state-administered program operating under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is not likely to be affected by Congress’ vote earlier this year to end free school lunch waivers, which ended this past June 30, it was reported.
The summer meals program is “an ongoing federal government program” that serves children between the ages of 1 and 18 and, as Mike Adkins, food service director for Holton USD 336, noted, “you don’t need to be enrolled in a school to be eligible for it.”
That means that while Jackson Heights does not participate in the program, students from the Jackson Heights district still have access to free meals from the Holton and Royal Valley districts.
Adkins said Holton’s program handled “about 375 meals” per day during the month of June, and that amount of service is likely to continue through Friday, July 29, when the district’s summer meal program will end.
Response to the program in Holton, Adkins said, has been “overwhelming,” and the program has extended beyond the school district.
“We did some outreach to all the area daycare centers, and also to NEK-CAP, which is delivering tons of meals for us, door to door,” he said.
Primarily, meals are available for pickup during the lunch hour at Holton Elementary School, but Adkins noted that some volunteers are picking up meals and taking them to young people in the community — even “a couple of good Samaritans” are delivering meals to young people in Denison, which is part of the USD 336 coverage area.
And in the Royal Valley school district, food service director Jessica Bryan noted that an average of “about 95 children per day” are being served by that district’s summer meal program, with more than 4,000 meals in all served through the month of June. Bryan also noted that the Royal Valley program was originally scheduled to run through June but will continue through July 29.
All meals served by the Royal Valley district are “grab and go” at Royal Valley High School in Hoyt, Bryan said.
“Our Summer Child Care program (RVCLC) that is housed at Royal Valley Elementary School utilizes the program for breakfast and lunch daily,” she added. “We also set up a cart each morning down by our weight room for the students doing the summer athletic/conditioning programs.”
Children who benefit from the Holton program can pick up that day’s lunch and the next day’s breakfast at the same time on a daily basis, while at Royal Valley, breakfasts and lunches are distributed separately.
Jackson Heights district superintendent Jim Howard noted that his district does not participate in the program due to the school’s location.
The program is not affected by Congress’ vote in March to cut funding to the free school lunch waiver program, but it did receive a booster earlier this year when USDA announced that it would increase program reimbursement rates, Adkins said.
USDA’s annual rate reimbursement, it was reported, was part of an annual rate adjustment that increased lunch reimbursements by 25 cents, helping to offset higher pandemic-related costs and to provide an estimated $750 million in extra funds for child nutrition programs.
“The question is, will that be enough to offset the wholesale price increase?” Adkins said. “I don’t think anybody has the answer, because when COVID-19 hit, almost every food service provider that I know of claimed ‘act of God’ and went to street pricing instead of contract pricing… There’s no such thing as competitive bidding now in food service.”
If COVID-19 did provide one benefit for the program, it’s been the availability of the “grab and go” option for meals, Adkins said.
“Prior to COVID, for the most part, you had to do the meal service in a congregate setting — you had to come into the dining room, sit down and eat a meal, then leave,” he said. “With the congregate feeding, you’d have to make two trips to get two meals. That’s not very practical for a lot of people.”