Free meals

Good Hope cafeteria workers, teachers and community volunteers gather at the school in March to prepare free breakfast and lunch for the county's students. Free meals will continue through the fall after the USDA extending summer meal program funding through December. 

Every student in the Cullman City and Cullman County School Systems will receive free meals this semester after the United States Department of Agriculture extended summer meal program funding into the fall. 

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette said program's extension means every student in the county can get a free breakfast and lunch every day, as well as meals from the county's afternoon feeding program. 

For the families of students who are attending school virtually this year, they can get a week's worth of meals at their child's school every Wednesday, he said. 

Barnette said around 56-57 percent of the county's student population receive free or reduced meals, and the extension of the free meal programs will help those families and all of the other families in the county as they navigate through any financial concerns that may have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's going to help our community, it's going to help our families that need that money to spend on other things right now," he said. 

The Cullman City School System announced the free meals in an online post Wednesday afternoon, and the post also reminded families to continue to fill out their household application for free and reduced meals as the system needs those for schools to continue to receive their federal funds.

As of now, children will go to their regular approved status of free, reduced or paying full price for meals in January, so the form is still very important, the announcement said.

The extension of the summer meal program was announced in a press release from the USDA, and said the free meals will continue until Dec. 31 or as long as funding for the programs lasts. 

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs, and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. 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.”

Tyler Hanes can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238.

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