As the school year comes to an end, we’ve been reflecting on what has been one of the most unprecedented school years. We have never ceased to be impressed and inspired by the ability of our schools to adapt and find creative solutions to problems never faced before.
This year also brought new insight into what it takes to feed a community and raised significant awareness of the importance of school meals. The many lessons these districts learned will undoubtedly shape the future of food service programs.
Our public school system has served millions of meals and counting since the beginning of the pandemic, 100% free of cost to any family with children under 18 under waivers from the USDA, and extensions to the federal P-EBT Program. These meals have brought some relief to the estimated 12 million children living with food insecurity as hunger has grown throughout the pandemic.
For many, these momentary interactions provided more than just a meal for their children. Despite the additional guidelines, preparation, and service, school staff handed off each meal with a warm smile and (masked) face to face conversation that provided momentary relief from the isolation caused by the pandemic. Meal pick-ups became the center of many communities, supporting the parents as well as their students. So many districts were able to partner with local food companies, food pantries, and farms to offer supplemental food boxes for families to take home along with their children’s meals, providing further hunger relief.
We have been saying it all year, but it cannot be said enough. THANK YOU to all of our school heroes. Your hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed. School meals are essential to fighting child hunger and keeping our kids at their healthiest. We know that many challenges are still present, with unknowns about the next school year and growing momentum towards permanent universal meals. We are focused on making sure our districts are supported as we move towards more permanent solutions.