Photo by Sophia Arndt
The Nutrition Services Staff work tirelessly to provide free healthy meals to the students and families of the Stillwater District. These meals are provided through the Congress approved United States Department of Agriculture grant that expires Dec. 31. As the deadline approaches, schools hasten to cement a plan for student meals.
The USDA’s grant works in the form of waivers that were originally used for Summer Food Service Programs. These grants were provided to ease stress for families during COVID-19. These waivers ensure all kids ages 1-18 have access to nutritional breakfasts and lunches.
“It’s not a grant, it’s a series of waivers that allows us to continue on the Summer Food Service Program… It allows us to offer breakfast and lunch to all kids 1-18,” Kelley Linquist, supervisor of nutrition services explained about the USDA grant explained.
In a public statement, the USDA stated they would extend the deadline of the grant until Dec. 31 or until funding has run out. These flexibilities allow summer meal programs to continue to provide free meals for students into the fall semester and for hybrid and online students to receive “grab-and-go” meals.
“We are distributing meals on Fridays for distance learners but this is open to the entire district and may include kids not in school or not even in our district,” Linquist said. “We provide prepackaged meals to go at the high school for students leaving for early dismissal, as well as to go to the container in the cafeteria if they want to grab something from there. We are also providing grab and go breakfast in the rotunda to help ensure all students have access to meals.”
Recently, new concerns have emerged about what will happen after the deadline is reached, especially by families who are currently relying on these meals. Once the grant has expired, meals will no longer be free to students and schools must now make the transition back to paid meals smoothly.
Stillwater Nutrition Services plan on immediately moving to Student Nutrition Program, meaning students will pay for their meal.
“After the waivers expire, we will move to the SNP. This will be the same model we’ve always followed while school is in session,” Linquist said. “We will have students scan their barcodes and students who are approved for free/reduced meals will receive breakfast and lunch for free, students who have not been approved will be charged for the meals.”
Some have brought up the question of what will happen if congressional funding runs out before the USDA deadline. Many schools already have plans in place, with the Stillwater Nutrition Service staff having it set to immediately switch to SNP whether the deadline is met or funding runs out.
When asked about this possible complication, Linquist explained the schools “will immediately switch to SNP.”
When providing meals to students during a pandemic, safety remains the top priority of everyone involved. Whether it be take-home meals or eating in the school, precautions have been put in place to ensure protection. Nutrition continues to be a large concern, with the Nutrition Services Staff working diligently to provide balanced meals for everyone involved. Nutrition is a key ingredient to a functioning school, with it being a top priority at Stillwater Schools.
“We’ve always had a balanced menu with lots of options. It has to meet certain requirements for USDA, you’ve probably seen it if you’ve been in Stillwater schools for a long time where you have to have the five components,” kitchen manager Amy Richardson explained. “It’s the protein, the grain, the fruit, the veggies, the milk… it’s the exact same program that we’ve been doing… And we keep those same standards for our bag meals. Because it is the same program. It’s just a different delivery style.”
When asked about the precautions set for pick-up meals, Linquist explained, “In order to keep my staff and our community safe, we have tables set up outside of the pick of schools. My staff and community members wear masks,” Linquist added. “My staff puts the meals on the table and parents grab it from there.”
Students have noticed the significant change in the schools as well, junior Ryan Beard said school itself is an adjustment, but the students are “all making it work.”
Furthermore, flexibility has been implemented into the districts plan to ensure students remain fed. Whether it be the aforementioned free meals or offering meals to younger siblings who aren’t enrolled in schools, this will no longer be the case when SNP becomes reinstated.
“Some key differences are as follows. All meals are free vs. some students having to pay… We can offer meals to younger siblings who are not enrolled in our schools. With SNP we can only serve enrolled students. There is also a waiver that allows parents to pick up without their students, this is not typically the case,” Linquist said.
With every compilation thrown at them, the Stillwater Nutrition Services team has overcome each of them. They have worked relentlessly to ensure no child misses a meal on their watch.
Linquist echoed this sentiment, “In our department we feed kids. It’s what we do and we want to ensure none of our students go hungry.”