Free student meals program extended

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

18-and-under get free breakfast, lunch through 2020

Parents pockets will be a little heavier for the rest of this calendar year, as the USDA has extended its free breakfast and lunch program, and area schools are taking advantage.

Children 18-and-under may eat breakfast and lunch for free at Monett, Cassville, Southwest, Exeter, Wheaton, Pierce City and possibly Purdy, likely through the end of 2020.

Russ Moreland, Monett superintendent, said Thursday he expected an announcement soon on the USDA program.

“We are completing the application and getting approval,” he said. “We got an email about it last week, and once we went through the review process of what it would entail and what we had to do to qualify, it didn’t make sense not to do it.

“It’s a good opportunity for kids and families, as some may still be struggling financially.”

“When we went on our wellness break in March, we began that food service program provided by the USDA,” said Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent. “We ran that from March through May, and now, it’s been extended. We also can roll it back to Sept. 1, so anyone who paid for meals from Sept. 1-8 should have those payments added back to their accounts.”

A la carte items at all districts are not included in the program, and students wanting those must still pay for them. Adults must also still pay for their meals.

“It’s just the base breakfast and lunch that is free to children 18-and-under,” he said.

To qualify for the USDA program, schools had to show their points of service at every cafeteria, prove they would serve healthy meal options and show their free and reduced rate was above 50 percent. Monett’s free and reduced rate is 66 percent, Cassville’s is 63 percent, Southwest’s is 68 percent, Exeter’s is 70 percent, Wheaton’s is 67 percent, Pierce City’s is 56 percent, and Purdy’s is 57 percent.

“We will count the meals and turn them in for reimbursement to offset food and labor costs,” Asbill said. “It’s not a direct offset, but it covers about 65-70 percent. The reimbursement rate is 70 cents higher per tray than the regular school lunch program.”

The program is extended through the end of December, or until funds run out. Asbill said DESE guidance is that the funds will hold for the remainder of 2020.

Tosha Tilford, Southwest superintendent, said her district started the USDA program on about Sept. 3. Kelli Alumbaugh, Pierce City superintendent, said her district started the program on Sept. 8.

Ernest Raney, Exeter superintendent, said the district received notice on Thursday morning it qualified for the program.

“We are getting the word out to let families know we are passing those savings along,” he said.

Trish Wilson, Wheaton superintendent, said Wheaton started the program Monday.

“It’s a great opportunity for our community and our students,” she said.

Mindi Gates, Purdy superintendent, said Purdy is still looking into the program and is in the process of filling out the paperwork.

Tony Simmons, Wheaton superintendent, said Verona is not taking part in the USDA program, as it has had free breakfast and lunch for two years already through another program.

All districts that have joined the USDA program are making it retroactive to Sept. 1, meaning any students that paid for meals from that date to the date the program started will have those meal costs credited back to their accounts.

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