Schools work to feed students

Steekee Elementary School cafeteria workers Chelsey Fox, left, and Tammy Davis prepare meals for students.

Loudon County students will get free school meals until the end of the year.

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, families will not be required to complete paperwork.

“They made an announcement on Sept. 1 that we could extend what we were doing during emergency feeding. We could offer it under that part of their program, it’s called a ‘Seamless Summer Option,’ and when you do that you have the potential of feeding everyone free depending on the demographics of your community,” Alison May, Loudon County Schools food services supervisor, said. “So we were able to enroll in that and until Dec. 31 ..., or until funds become unavailable through USDA, we’ll be allowed to feed all students free.

“... We’re allowed to distribute multiple days at one time just like we did from March to July, so what I have in mind is the first school day of the week, which is typically going to be a Monday, starting Sept. 14 parents can come and they can pick up for each child in their home five breakfasts and five lunches,” she added.

A federal waiver was scheduled to expire Aug. 31.

“When Alison found out about the grant, we both immediately said this is something that we need to participate in to make sure that our families are taken care of,” Michael Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said. “Even if we’ve got families that didn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch, there are still families out there struggling and if there’s anything we can do to make that easier on the families, we want to be able to do that. This was an opportunity that the USDA has provided to us, so we wanted to make sure that we could pass that on to the Loudon County community and serve them to the best of our ability.”

Loudon County Schools provided 189,396 meals March-July to anyone 18 and under. Lenoir City Schools offered 157,898 meals.

“This is huge for our school district and for families,” Vicki Bivens, Lenoir City Schools nutrition supervisor, said in an email correspondence. “We did run a different program this week, before the USDA approved the free meal waivers. Families went online and completed a ‘request for meals’ form and we delivered the meals to their homes on Wednesday. We delivered a little over 300 meals, but now that every child 18 years and under can eat for free we hope this will increase participation. We made the decision to have parents pick up the meals at our high school on Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. so we could spend the day preparing and packaging meals.”

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said students in the five-day school program from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade can get all meals at schools, students in the hybrid schedule can get three breakfasts and three lunches for days not at school and fully online students — including those quarantined — can get five breakfasts and lunches for free.

Prior to the announcement, Loudon County Schools offered meals to students off campus priced as if they were in school. May said only about 12 families — six each from Philadelphia and Steekee elementary schools — expressed interest in the program initially. She believes the USDA announcement could see a spike in participation.

County school families can first go on the district’s website and click on a link to express interest so that May or cafeteria staff can reach out to them, Garren said.

“That was the goal of offering it to virtual students,” May said. “It’s our goal every day in the school nutrition program to feed as many school breakfast and school lunches as possible, and we certainly did not want to eliminate the opportunity for students who are enrolled in virtual school to participate in our program. So that’s why up front we offered it, but again I feel like there’s more interest — because everyone knows it will be free of charge for a while. So that’s a great benefit.

“... I can tell you I got about seven or eight emails just last night after it appeared on Facebook and on our web page,” she added.

Once USDA funding ends, Garren said the program returns to previous guidelines. Bivens was unsure what approach Lenoir City would take.

For more information, visit www.loudon county.org or www.lenoircityschools.com.