All children ages 1 to 18 can get a free school breakfast and lunch from Abilene Public Schools through Dec. 31 or “until the money runs out.”
During Monday night’s meeting, the Abilene Board of Education approved extending the summer meal program that expired at the end of July. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved extending the program.
“With the number of schools that are not coming into session, the USDA has opened up the opportunity to provide free meals like they do in the summer for all young people (ages) 1 to 18. That’s lunch and breakfast,” explained Abilene Superintendent Greg Brown.
He believes it’s likely the money will run out before Dec. 31.
“I think most schools around the country will participate in this,” Brown said. “It’s a no brainer.”
Each participating district had to submit a waiver application and plan. Abilene’s was developed in consultation with Opaa, the district’s food management company. USDA approved the district’s application and plan Sept. 10. Following Monday night’s board approval, the program launched Tuesday.
The program is for all children, whether they qualify for free and reduced meals or are full-pay.
Meals will be provided to students attending school in person at each building, although they may also bring a sack lunch from home if desired.
Families of students ages 1 to 18 attending school remotely and those not enrolled in USD 435 can call the district office at (785) 263-2630 before 9 a.m. Monday through Friday to order a free meal.
Meals are not available on days school is not in session.
The call-in meals will be available for “grab and go” pickup at the district office, located at 213 N. Broadway, from noon to 12:30 p.m. Children had to accompany an adult guardian during the first pickup.
“The only thing that will be different for families from the summer program is we need them to call in daily by 9 a.m. if their student is not attending school in person,” explained Assistant Superintendent Dana Sprinkle.
Using the district office as the pick up site allows the school buildings to remain closed and stops people from “coming in and out.”
The downtown district office is also a fairly centralized location in the city, Sprinkle said.
School board member Jennifer Waite said she had a parent ask if school lunches would continue to be distributed in foam containers because “it’s wasteful.”
“Are they going to revert back to trays?” Waite asked.
Brown said that decision was up to each school’s principal.
“Most principals indicate they would like to move back that direction,” Brown explained.
Will Burton, Abilene High School assistant principal and district athletic director, said the high school was in the process of trying to find enough trays and plates to make it happen.
One of the issues at the high school is that students are eating in places other than the lunchroom to help maintain social distancing, Brown said.
“The big challenge at the high school is we’ve got a bunch of kids eating in the gym,” he explained. “But they’re big kids also. They could probably handle the trays as well.”
Of all the schools, Brown said that Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary, the fourth and fifth grade attendance center, probably was the most prepared to eliminate foam containers because its lunch schedule had been revamped so students could use the lunchroom.
Sprinkle related she received a text message from Eisenhower Principal Ethan Gruen that Eisenhower would begin using trays the following day (Sept. 15).
Rather than being in attendance at the meeting, most of the administrators attended remotely to keep the room from being too crowded.
Burton, who attended in person due to another matter on the agenda, said he remembered hearing that Kennedy Primary School (home to kindergarten, first grade and the new preschool program) was serving lunch in the classrooms.
“So Styrofoam is essential for delivery,” Burton said.
How’s the food?
Speaking of food, Board Member Chris West asked how the students are reacting to Opaa Food Management, the district’s new food service program.
He’s heard some like it, some don’t.
Burton said he had not heard anybody complain. He eats school lunch most days and said he has enjoyed the meals. He believes when Opaa can get back to normal procedures and offer self-serve buffets with fruits, vegetables and other options “things will be even better.”
Brown said Opaa officials would like to maintain an ongoing presence with the board and plans to provide a monthly report for the board.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.orgπ