(ST. JOSEPH, Missouri) For students living in food insecure homes, going to school during the COVID-19 pandemic has added another level of uncertainty.
Monday was the first day of blended learning for students in the St. Joseph School District. For students who learn from a mix of in-person and home learning, the district said it’s critical that students always receive their two free meals per day.
“We see a need in the community,” said Brian Tarr, director of nutrition services at SJSD, “there is some concern that some students may go without meals. ”
Community leaders said that for many families in SJSD, school meals are their only guaranteed meals for the day and that it is essential to ensure that these meals continue regardless of the method of teaching.
“We have kids who come knocking on our door and tell us they’re hungry and we go in our pockets or our closet for them,” said Shelia Gilbert, Founder of Food for Kids.
Tarr said the district is feeding about 8,000 students a day.
17 of the 22 schools in the district have 51% more students on free or discounted meals, which qualifies them for the USDA Seamless Summer Program.
“At the beginning, we said it in December. We just got confirmation that it will go until the end of June, ”Tarr said.
With the district becoming a hybrid, nutrition services said they are making sure students get their fruits and vegetables no matter where they learn.
“Even when we do virtual or hybrid meal pickups, they get breakfast and lunch for each day they’re not in school,” Tarr said.
The director of nutrition at Carden Park Elementary School said having to prepare meals for virtual and hybrid students was an added challenge for their workload.
“Say if on Tuesday 40 students come to pick up, we send 120 breakfasts and 120 lunches because that gets them through the three days. In the meantime, we still do our normal meals here. That’s a whole lot of stuff, ”said Donita Swafford, nutrition manager at Carden Park Elementary.
Hybrid and virtual parents can pick up their students’ meals on Wednesdays, by car from 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The district said in order for families to qualify for meal pickup, they will need to submit their meal request form each week before noon Thursday for meal pickup the following week.
According to the SJSD website, meal pickup points will be at all school sites except Central, Bode, Ellison, Field, Oak Grove, and Webster. However, the district said families can pick up any available school, it doesn’t have to be their “homeschool”.
Cafeteria staff said they want more families to take advantage of these two free daily meals.
“The enrollment here at Carden Park is around 650 students, so knowing that we are feeding at least 400-500 still worries me for those who are not participating in this. I hope and pray that their parents will be able to meet their needs in this way, ”said Swafford.
While Tarr said the Seamless Summer program has been extended until next June, community leaders are hoping the free meals will last long enough to help families navigate this pandemic and academic challenge.
“When the school can help feed the children … because the churches have closed their doors. So when the churches have closed their doors, the ditch closed,” Gilbert said.
To complete the meal pickup form, visit the SJSD website.