School summer meal programs: with food insecurity on the rise, how will Adirondack students get food this summer?

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, food service and transportation staff have been critical to school children maintaining access to the same types of meals they were used to getting in school. Meals have been delivered to students’ homes rather than served in the cafeteria, and schools have been able to provide up to one week’s worth of meals (2 meals/day) at a time. The majority of local Adirondack districts will be ending their instruction in mid-June, but meals will continue to be served until June 30th. This end date has many wondering, what happens to these meals on July 1st? 

Beginning July 1st, schools will be able to serve meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This program allows other community organizations besides schools such as local government agencies, private non-profit organizations, universities or colleges, community & faith-based organizations to operate this program so long as the food is prepared in a commercial kitchen. Because of this unprecedented crisis schools and other organizations that don’t normally operate SFSP may not have the labor or budget to be able to run the program. They can apply to NY State Education Department to administer the program, but without money in the budget already set aside, this may not be a feasible option. Traditionally town youth commissions operate SFSP’s out of the buildings where town camps are held (often in schools or at local parks) and even though camps are not operating this year, many are still choosing to continue to serve the meals to students. Providing 2/3 of the students’ meals this summer will be a critical support for many families struggling to stay afloat during this difficult time. With the high percentages of rural poverty in our region, the meals can be the difference between families having enough food for everyone or making sacrifices for some to go hungry.

At the start of the Covid crisis, local farms that were selling to institutional customers had to make a quick pivot to direct to consumer markets to keep up their revenue. Some farmers had their products packaged specifically for institutions, and reselling those large quantities has been a challenge. Most of the farmers I’ve spoken with have been able to transition their production to direct to consumer markets, but are eager to have their institutional customers purchasing again. These larger – and often contracted – orders require less work and less packaging on the producer side. But this is only part of the reason why bringing local food back into schools is so important. When schools purchase local food, they are supporting local businesses in their community, and show their dedication to providing students with healthy and nutritious foods.

Local purchasing always has a significant impact on the nutrition, health, and overall well-being of students, but the importance has become greater as they navigate the current changes in their lives. With lay-offs and many parents working from home, an increased number of students are eating school-provided meals at home than while in school. One district that I spoke with has had meal participation more than double since the pandemic started and it’s because of that increase that including local food in the school meal programs is so important. Serving fresh, locally grown foods in school meal programs provides students with better nutrition and sets them up for more learning opportunities in school. In this time of crisis consuming locally grown food can have a ripple effect on their overall well-being and foster stronger behavior and learning outcomes.  

As schools navigate how they’ll serve summer meals, local community members and organizations are wondering if there is anything they can do to help. Are there ways to continue supplying meals to students outside of SFSP? As parents return to work do children need more ready-to-eat options if they are old enough to be home alone or with a babysitter? We are working towards the answers to these questions, and making sure programs have access to locally grown foods. In the meantime, if you have a great idea, or would like to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. And for students and families in need of summer meal assistance, please contact your school administrators and your town youth commission to see if summer meals will be provided in your town.

Update: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 authorized the payment of P-EBT food benefits to households with children who would have received free or reduced-price school meals under the National School Lunch Act, if not for a school closure. These temporary food benefits are to help cover the cost of meals children would otherwise would have received at school. $420 is the maximum amount of P-EBT food benefits that one child could receive for the entire March through June period. More information is available here: https://otda.ny.gov/SNAP-COVID-19/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Pandemic-EBT.asp

 

Author: Meghan Brooks, Farm to School Educator, meb377@cornell.edu 

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County

Meghan has helped AdkAction identify households with school children who need our Emergency Food Packages. Students in Rouses Point, Crown Point, and Boquet Valley Districts have partnered with AdkAction to distribute food packages to families needing additional support.

 

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