October 16, 2021

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Children Can Get Free Meals All Summer season

Photograph: John Moore / Workers (Getty Photos)

The USDA has prolonged its pandemic free meals program for the summer season, via not less than September 30, 2021. When you haven’t already been collaborating, chances are you’ll be shocked to know that these meals are for all school-aged children and are 100% free with no paperwork to qualify.

Illustration for article titled Kids Can Get Free Meals All Summer

As the USDA puts it:

The waivers extended today allow for safe meal distribution sites that serve all children for free, regardless of income. In addition, the waivers:

  • Allow meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) – collectively known as “summer meal programs” – to be made available in all areas at no cost;
  • Allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times; and
  • Allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.

Contact your school district to find out how they serve or distribute the meals. At our local school, for example, parents fill out an online form each week saying how many children they are requesting meals for, and whether those children are fully remote or if they already eat some of their meals at school. Then, on the appointed day, we drive up to the school and the cafeteria staff hand us a big bag through the window. The meals include all the components of a typical school lunch and breakfast for each day: little cartons of milk, bags of carrots, microwaveable main dishes, and so on.

Illustration for article titled Kids Can Get Free Meals All Summer

Normally, families have to qualify for free or reduced price meals, and schools need to serve the meals according to specific rules and mealtimes, but in the pandemic the USDA has been waiving some of the rules to remove barriers and help more children get fed. The waivers vary by state, and you can look them up here if you are curious, but the best way to find out what’s up in your area is to contact your kids’ school.

Summer meals are served or distributed not only from schools, but often also churches and community centers. In previous years, these summer meal sites could only be located in low-income areas, but the waivers allow for more locations. The USDA has a summer meal finder that will help you find a location near you.

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