Ideas for handling free meals for students

How Charleston County School District is handling grab-and-go meals to reduce COVID-19 exposure, and what administrators in all districts need to know about operating such programs during school closures
By: | April 7, 2020
Stamford Public Schools in Connecticut also has a grab-and-go meals program, with each child being offered two bagged meals per day. Photo by John Moore/Getty ImagesStamford Public Schools in Connecticut also has a grab-and-go meals program, with each child being offered two bagged meals per day. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Charleston County (S.C.) School District is adjusting its strategy to serve free meals to students, further incorporating public health and safety principles, during school closures related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We are using the ‘grab-and-go’ model outside of schools and from school buses parked in strategic locations for about 30 minutes at each location,” says Walter Campbell, nutrition services executive director for Charleston County.

While schools are shuttered, the district is offering area school-age children free meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Seamless Summer Option. The meal costs are reimbursed through USDA.

“Between our school sites and buses, we are at about 60 locations across the district, and growing,” says Campbell.

In its efforts to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure time, the district began providing grab-and-go meals at its current sites at schools and bus stops on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays only. Each child receives five breakfasts and five lunches each week with two days’ worth of meals provided Mondays and Wednesdays. The district provides one breakfast and one lunch on Fridays.

Families in Charlestown County can pick up meals curbside. Photo: Joseph Pettit

Families in Charlestown County can pick up meals curbside. Photo: Joseph Pettit

“Community partners, like the Lowcountry Food Bank, are giving out ‘Backpack Buddy’ food boxes for the weekend at some of our grab-and-go locations,” says Campbell. “The local restaurant groups are starting to get out in the community and give away food and meals in certain areas.”

Operating unanticipated school closure, summer meal programs

All school-age children within the SSO or Summer Food Service Program site area are eligible to receive free meals, according to USDA officials. Area child care centers may participate in SSO or the SFSP during unanticipated school closures and receive meals at no cost. Consistent with regular SSO and SFSP operations, meal sites operating during an unanticipated school closure are generally open to all children age 18 and under.

Following are considerations for operating summer meal programs during unanticipated school closures as outlined in USDA’s Letter to Regional and State Directors (119 LRP 44801 USDA 11/05/19):

• State agencies must monitor SFSP operators that serve meals during unanticipated school closures consistent with the requirements found at 7 CFR 225.7(d). When the same school food authorities or personnel administer SFSP as well as the National School Lunch Program, the state agency is not required to conduct a review of the SFSP in the same year in which National School Lunch Program operations have been reviewed and determined to be satisfactory.

• Preapproval visits of sponsors proposing to operate during unanticipated school closures from October through April (or at any time of the year in an area with a continuous school calendar) are not required and may be conducted at the discretion of the state agency. 7 CFR 225.7(d)(1)(i)

• During unanticipated school closures, state agencies may exempt experienced sponsors and school food authorities from submitting a new application if the sponsor participated in SFSP at any time during the current year or in either of the prior two calendar years. 7 CFR 225.6(c)(1)

• New sponsors applying for participation in the program due to an unanticipated school closure are exempt from the application submission deadline 7 CFR 225.6(b)(1). Area eligibility requirements apply during unanticipated school closures.

• If a school food authority or sponsor wants to provide SSO or SFSP meals during an unanticipated school closure, they must either provide meals at a non-school site or request a waiver from the Food and Nutrition Service through their state agency. (For requests encompassing areas that are covered under a Major Disaster Declaration from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state agencies should contact their Food and Nutrition Service regional office to discuss disaster waiver procedures.)

Johnny Jackson covers homeless and at-risk students and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

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