By Tori Mason

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended its free summer meal program. Schools in the Food and Nutrition Service and Summer Food Service Program will have students’ meals paid for, regardless of economic ability, by the USDA through Dec. 31 or until funding runs out.

(credit: CBS)

“This extension of summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children – whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually – so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Jefferson County Public Schools learned of the welcome news just one week before students return to learning.

“We’ve spent an entire summer working on our safety protocols. We’ve been making sure our staff will be safe. We’ve been making sure our kids will be safe when they come through the lines,” said Beth Wallace, Executive Director of Jefferson County Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services.

Free lunch will also help with social distancing, since money won’t be exchanged.

With more than 150 public schools in Jeffco Public Schools, lunch in every cafeteria won’t look the same, but the recent extension from the USDA will ensure that every child has a meal. In 2019, 41% of Colorado students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

(credit: CBS)

“A lot of our families have been furloughed, laid off, or lost their businesses. I think this is one less thing that they have to worry about,” said Wallace.

Wallace gave CBS4’s Tori Mason a tour of the cafeteria at Creighton Middle School to show how students will dine safely.

Students returning to school in person will have temperature checks and increased opportunities to sanitize throughout the facilities. A large bottle of hand sanitizer is placed outside the cafeteria for students to use while they’re socially distancing in line.

The lunch tables at Creighton Middle School can only seat about four socially-distanced students at time, but some can also sit outside or in desks on the adjacent stage. They’ll need to eat quicker than usual, as more rounds of lunch could mean shorter lunch times.

“A lot of our schools are going back to the classroom to eat, a lot of them are distancing in the cafeteria. Lunch is going to go much faster because were prepackaging meals in a grab-and-go bag. For remote-learning students, we have to get to the point where we’re providing 12 meals at one time. So that would be 6 breakfast and 6 lunches for our 100% remote students,” said Wallace.

Wallace says they’ll provide remote students with a few take home meals at a time, via drive-thru pick up, and eventually provide them with a week’s worth of meals at once. Hybrid students will get meals to go on their last day of in-person learning for the week.

(credit: CBS)

She says Jeffco Public Schools is also introducing an app this year that will allow students to secure their food orders online.

The national free meal extension is in effect for most school districts, but not all of them. Families should contact their child’s district to find out if they’ll receive the funding.

Tori Mason

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