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Corvallis and Hamilton serve free meals for youth
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Corvallis and Hamilton serve free meals for youth

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Corvallis and Hamilton schools are participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s extended Summer Food Service Program allowing all students to eat for free, regardless of income.

Corvallis is providing meals for students registered with the school while Hamilton’s meals are for anyone under 18.

Corvallis Food Service Director Kathy Martin said school eligibility is based on community income and if the school has participated in the summer meals program.

“This is available until the end of the year or as long as funding allows,” Martin said. “If the funding is gone by the first of October, the program is done. It only lasts as long as there is funding.”

She said the numbers are based on numbers from spring, but school wasn’t in session then.

“So, now, nationwide, we have the whole gambit of schools in session, schools not in session,” Martin said. “I think the volume will be greater than it was in the spring.”

An essential step is for families to turn in their free and reduced lunch applications so they aren’t charged for meals if the program suddenly ends.

“We usually have September as a carryover from last year’s application, and so we need families to get those applications in like they are paying for meals,” Martin said.

The information on the applications is also used to fund other programs like e-rate (school funding for technology).

“It is based on the community’s income, and it is based on free and reduced percentages,” Martin said. “Even things like day care, if they qualify for federal funding, it is based on the school’s free and reduced percentages. Those free and reduced applications really need to be in because they affect so many things. The family’s pocketbook can really benefit.”

Community-wide those applications show the income of a community.

The easy applications are available on the school website, at the district office, or from every school office. Families on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are directly certified and do not have to complete an application. Schools must be approved by the state to switch from regular school funding to summer meal program funding.

“When the (summer meal program) money is gone all of the schools will switch back to the school meal program,” Martin said.

In the summer, Corvallis was an open site where anyone under 18 could come to the school and eat for free, but the school has COVID-19 precautions and is a closed site where only the students who are enrolled in the school are eligible to participate.

The fiscal year for the summer meal program ends at the end of September and schools have to reapply the first of October to get on next summer’s meal program.

“It should be a seamless transition,” Martin said. “But I feel that we would evaluate if we will remain closed, only for enrolled students.”

The best reason to participate is that it helps families with their finances because all students eat for free. At Corvallis, breakfast for all students costs $1.35 and lunch for grades K-8 is $2.50 and high school and adult is $2.75. So if a student got breakfast and lunch every day for a month a family could save $77 in the summer meal program.

“You add a few siblings and that adds up quickly. All of a sudden, if you have five or six kids you have a house payment,” Martin said. “The funding is critical, I don’t know how long it will last. Procedurally, we’re going to look the same, but the behind the scenes charging is not going to happen.”

Martin said another reason to participate is flexibility of ordering, especially for schools serving in classrooms. Meal components are more lenient during the summer program compared to during the school year. For instance, in the regular school year the type of vegetable that must be served is named, in the summer it is open to any vegetable. Two different fat quantities of milk must be offered during the school year (like skim and 1%) but in the summer, schools just have to offer milk.

“It makes it nice, especially if I’m having trouble getting a certain type of milk,” Martin said. “I’m worried about supplies because if all the schools in the nation are serving more kids ... it is going to be a huge undertaking for the industry to keep these schools supplied.”

For remote learners at Corvallis, families order by Monday at noon, then pick up a week’s worth of food (10 breakfasts and 10 lunches) as soon as school is out on Thursday. Every Thursday they get an email with an order form to sign up by Monday, noon.

“It is huge for us to be able to help families in the community and save them some money,” Martin said. “It gets meals to those kiddos. I feel I need to do this for families. It is bigger than me, bigger than the school. Corvallis is about community, and we’re taking care of the community.”

Hamilton School District started serving free Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) meals on Monday and is serving anyone 18 and under, whether they are registered as a student in the district or not.

HSD3 Food Service Director Denise Burrows said they were already sending out meals for remote learners registered in the district, but this USDA funding added another opportunity to provide food to more children.

Burrows said people wanting food for youth need to make reservations ahead, calling 406-363-5038 or emailing at burrowsd@hsd3.org, so she has the food ready.

The food staff is busy meeting criteria for COVID-19 health regulations, for example at Hamilton Middle School and Daly Elementary School they are delivering lunches to every classroom.

Each Friday the school hands out meals to go from the front office at Daly, east off Kurtz Lane. Last Friday, the school sent out 190 meals to remote learners, and this Friday, with the addition of Free Summer Meals to anyone under age 18, the numbers will be even higher.

“We’re getting them food for this week as soon as they call me, and then they’ll come back Friday for next week’s food,” Burrows said. “We’re trying to get it to them as quick as we can. We have to serve the kids on campus first.”

The school is sending out breakfasts and lunches for every day that school is in session for students. The USDA has extended additional waivers such as the parent or guardian is able pick up multiple meals without the kids in the car.

Burrows said the transition was not overwhelming. She had food orders in and student numbers have been lower in the spring and this fall. The food delivered to classrooms is cold, and the food they are sending home includes food that can be heated.

“We just want to make sure that people who need food are getting food,” Burrows said. “This summer, we were feeding younger siblings who were cut off when school started. So this extends that through December.”

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