County, City Schools to offer free meals to all students

Published 4:21 pm Friday, September 4, 2020

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Thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture extending its Summer Food Program, all students at Andalusia City Schools, Covington County Schools and Opp City Schools will be provided free breakfast and lunch.

A federal waiver from the USDA that allowed the Summer Food Service Program to operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic was set to expire on Aug. 31. But to the relief of many school nutrition administrators and child nutrition advocates, the USDA announced yesterday that several flexibilities will be extended through as late as Dec. 31, 2020.

Without these extensions, school districts would have to revert back to serving meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP), which have more restrictions than the SFSP.

Under those programs, school districts would no longer be able to serve every child free meals. Instead, they would have to confirm which students are enrolled in the district.

“These students don’t have to be on free or reduced lunch,” Andalusia City Schools director of nutrition Shan Burkhardt said. “All kids will be able to eat free. We had to be approved by the state and each district had to get approval. It has been a fun 24 hours, but we have made it work.”

Burkhardt said that this opportunity is amazing for students.

“Not only are a lot of parents still out of work, but the kids are back in school and we need to be able to feed them whether they can pay or not,” Burkhardt said. “A lot of the kids came into the line and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m free too?’ Hopefully over the next week or so, more kids will start eating because now they don’t have to worry about money.”

On the school’s first day of providing free meals, Burkhardt said it went well.

“We have had lots of help from the teachers sending in daily meal counts,” Burkhardt said. “Since the meals are prepackaged, those meal counts help out a lot. We are really trying to work together with everybody.”

Covington County Schools superintendent Shannon Driver said all nine of the county schools will be participating.

“We are really excited that they have extended this program,” Driver said. “It definitely is a relief for many students and parents that are struggling right now because of COVID-19. Hopefully we will have several students take advantage of this program.”

Opp City Schools are also taking advantage of the free meal program.

“I think this is a wonderful thing,” Smithart said. “Especially during this time, it is a tremendous benefit.”

Covington County Schools and Opp City Schools will begin free meals on Tuesday.