Schools Closed, Kitchens Open
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
By Emma Duncan--Eagle Staff Writer
When school let out in March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created waivers allowing school cafeterias to stay open and prepare meals for needy families. Seven months later, these waivers have been extended and revised.
Last year, about 46% of Virginia school-age children were eligible for free-and-reduced-priced lunches. According to the USDA, that’s approximately 594,000 kids.
When Governor Ralph Northam decided all schools would close in early March, the school board started working on a way for these students to receive meals, and they weren’t alone in their planning.
A month later in April, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) was approved to operate in Virginia and Kansas. The USDA described the EBT as follows:
“...a new program authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed by President Trump, which provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals dealing with school closures,” according to their website.
Heather Snead, FCPS Coordinator of Nutrition, said this program was extremely successful.
“In March, April, and May of last year we served 70,851 breakfast meals and 71,601 lunches,” Snead said.
Now that the 2020-21 school year is underway, and some students are still learning virtually, the waiver was changed so that any student may receive free meals. The school division released a press statement on Oct. 8 announcing these updates.
“FCPS will be serving meals at no charge to children 18 and under…through December 31, 2020. The waivers support access to nutritious meals while minimizing exposure to COVID-19. Meals are available to all children, including those learning in-person or virtually, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability,” read the statement.
Since some kids went back to school, the cafeteria staff hasn’t been supplying as many meals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting business.
“So far this year we’ve served 33,303 breakfast meals and 40,035 lunches,” Snead said.
Out of all the FCPS elementary schools providing meals, Snead says Glade Hill Elementary (GHES) is by far the busiest. It averages around 190 meals each week!
“At GHES we hand out about 100 meals on Mondays then just a few each of the other days,” said Sheila Motley, GHES Food Service Manager. “I usually don’t have anybody come on Fridays.”
The reason GHES’s average is so high is because they have some families coming every single week.
“We have some great supportive parents at GHES that have been coming since day one. Some of the parents/grandparents tell me how much their child likes the grapes, pbj's, apples, or other items. I’ve even had some say they couldn’t get their kids to try anything until getting these meals,” Motley said. “It makes me very happy to hear these things from them. It's why we do what we do.”
Motley explained that the meals not only help students, but also the cafeteria.
“Every meal we serve helps our Food Service budget because we get reimbursed for each meal, and it helps the families’ grocery budget,” she said. “I just wish more families would take advantage of the program for free meals for their kids. That would mean more work for us, but it would be worth it.”
Because some students will still be virtually learning next semester, the waiver has been extended yet again.
“The Department of Education has approved this to go all the way through the end of the school year,” Snead said.
Snead explained what kind of food the cafeteria is preparing for pickup.
“We have at least three options,” Snead said. “We do a hot entree, a cold entree, and one other thing, such as peanut butter and jelly.”
They also offer frozen meals such as chicken nuggets for lunch and waffles for breakfast, so kids aren’t eating the same thing every day.
Grab and go breakfast and lunch meals can be picked up inside or by drive-thru from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at all twelve elementary schools.
For more information, visit the FCPS School Nutrition website, or contact Heather Snead at 540-483-5138.