When schools closed on March 16th Guilford County Schools (GCS) and local food partners responded quickly, implementing “Grab and Go” models allowing parents to pick up meals in school parking lots or other community hubs; loading up school buses with meals and dropping them off at stops along neighborhood routes, as well as getting food for the weekend. By May, over 1.7 million meals had been distributed in Guilford County. The USDA did its part by issuing a crucial series of waivers granting more flexibility in how meals could be prepared, packaged, and served.
Today, there are many questions about the 2020–2021 school year as district officials tackle unprecedented challenges. The last thing school districts should be worrying about upon reopening is how to process meal applications and figuring out who qualifies for free or reduced-price categories; the mission of educating and feeding students as safely as possible should be their primary concern. The USDA needs to extend the pandemic school feeding waiver so every child has easy access to the nutrition they need. This waiver will accomplish three key goals.
- More families will have enough to eat. Since March, North Carolina’s unemployment rate has jumped to 12.9 percent and food prices have skyrocketed. A local food pantry, Backpack Beginnings, reports serving nearly four times as many students this summer than last summer.
- More children will receive healthy meals that help them grow, stay healthy, learn, and thrive. USDA’s research shows that the nutrition content of school meals has increased significantly, and student participation in meal programs is highest in schools that serve the healthiest meals.
- Schools will be spared financial and administrative burdens. GCS is facing enormous logistical and operational challenges ahead of the 2020–2021 school year, and meal service is no exception. With the number of children who would otherwise qualify for free and reduced-price meals expected to jump significantly, the federal government should step in to ensure that every child is properly fed during the school day at no expense to schools or families.
For more than 70 years, students have relied on national school meals programs to keep them healthy and help them learn, but their importance to our health and well-being has never been greater. Universal free school meals won’t solve every challenge associated with this pandemic, but it is key to a safe and equitable recovery.
Please contact your representatives in Congress and tell them you support extending pandemic school feeding waivers. Guilford County’s children are depending on us.