Kids in the Tea Area School District will continue to receive lunch and breakfast throughout the month of June.
Superintendent Jennifer Lowery said the district has received money through the CANS program to provide breakfast and lunches for children 1 year old through 18 years old. Meal funding for that age group will expire June 30.
“Right now we are looking at who has signed up these last two weeks to determine if we should request to continue in July,” she said. “We do know it would only be school-age children at that time so our numbers would drop drastically. We’re trying to determine the need balanced with the COVID food relief project that is run through a group at Trinity who’s connected with the tLink group.”
The first week that the school closed in March, J&R Mechanical provided an opportunity to have lunch for children across the district. After that first week, they received the funding from CANS. The funding allowed the district to offer meals to all children in the district.
After first offering breakfast and lunch meals for pickup at noon from the middle school and Frontier Elementary, they received feedback from families and found that offering pickup in the evening was a better option. Now families signup for meals between the Friday and Tuesday before the Monday of pickup from 4-6 p.m.
When the program started, district staff was serving about 500 meals a week. They expanded pickup locations to also include Venture Elementary. In April and May, they were serving more than 600 meals a week. The last two weeks have been around 360.
Lowery noted there are no income guidelines and no judgement. The only requirement is to be in the district. She thinks their peak in April and May was a combination of financial and emotional stress.
“I do think it was a mixture based on some feedback from people that really, really needed it because of reduced hours in terms of money and people who really, really needed it because of the tremendous stress of working, trying to provide educational support, so just to have a meal plan that was consistent for their kids that was easy and did not have to be pre-planned was just a small stressor that could be alleviated a little bit,” she said.
Each child receiving meals, gets five breakfasts and five lunches for each of the children they sign up. Lowery notes that business manager Chris Esping and nutrition director Delores Stratmeyer have been running the program and the kitchen staff have put in hours of work.
“The two of them and the kitchen staff have put in hours and hours of work to try to manage the orders when some things have been difficult to order,” Lowery said.
Meals are mix of foods that need to be refrigerated or frozen. Families receive a cold cut sandwich that is made the day of pickup that the district recommends eating first. The other meals could be a chicken patty with a bun that need to be frozen so it can be warmed up later in the week.
They also experimented with different fruits like pineapples and melons. They learned that they need to watch the dates they received those and communicate to families to eat those at the beginning.
“To meet the guidelines for lunch, you have to have a certain amount of fruit. Some things went better than others as we learned in the packaging and mass transit of all of that. We continue to learn. That group really worked to be innovative with different vegetables and different fruits,” she said.