A last-minute decision at the federal level turned local school nutrition programs upside down.
Managers in both the Enumclaw and White River school districts quickly scrapped plans and pivoted to a new reality when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced school lunch and breakfast offerings would be provided free, most likely until the end of the year.
The federal mandate came Monday, Aug. 31, the day before Enumclaw launched its new school year and three days before White River kicked into gear.
School districts everywhere had to immediately change direction in response to the all-meals-are-free directive. That is particularly true in areas where distance-learning is the order of the day, like the Enumclaw and White River districts.
In Washington, the USDA’s decision was made public by Chris Reykdahl, who heads the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended waivers that allow children ages 0–18 to receive breakfast and lunch at no cost through the end of December 2020,” Reykdahl shared in a press release. “With these waivers, schools can continue providing healthy, nutritious meals at no cost to all students who need them. Schools can continue using the processes they developed last spring, which resulted in more than 28 million meals being served to students who were learning at a distance.”
Both the Enumclaw and White River districts had started serving food at remote sites when schools were shuttered last spring in response to the coronavirus outbreak. That effort blended rather seamlessly into the traditional summer food program funded by USDA and operated by both local school systems.
As the new school year approached and it became clear that students would be learning from home, each district put plans into action that would have seen meals provided at school sites to be sent home. The big difference from the summer program was going to be cost: just as during a traditional school year, meals would be charged against a student’s account.
But everything changed in a heartbeat.
ENUMCLAW SCHOOL DISTRICT
With a new system in place, Enumclaw’s Child Nutrition Program has returned to the grab-and-go practices of the spring and summer.
Delivered in a single bag are two meals, one breakfast and one lunch. They are being distributed from all five district elementary schools, both middle schools, Enumclaw High and the district’s Birth to Five Center.
Bags are available from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The exception is rural Westwood Elementary, where the times are 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Child Nutrition Manager Tracy Holyan said meals also are being delivered by bus to areas not in the immediate area of a school (the Sellack community as a distant example) and the district is even making some home deliveries. To check on home delivery, parents/guardians can contact their child’s home school or call the nutrition program at 360-802-7715.
Richard Noble, who manages the Child Nutrition Program for the White River district, said meal-delivery plans are now “nearly identical” to those from the spring and summer.
There’s a difference, though: the fall offerings are “much more robust,” Noble said.
The district is providing curbside “grab and go” meals at each school site, he said, with the exception of the Early Learning Center. That building is omitted because it sits next door to Mountain Meadow Elementary School.
Additionally, White River operates seven “stop and drop” routes to serve kids in remote areas. The district takes in a lot of turf, Noble said, and not everyone can get to a school building. And, finally, the district will host eight “stop and serve” locations where kids can arrive and eat meals on-site.