All students in Alabama were set to receive free lunches through the end of the calendar year — and that’s now been extended through the entire school year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In Cullman City Schools, the program’s expansion came as welcome news for students and families navigating the challenges of 2020.
Dreama Young, the city schools’ Child Nutrition Director, said families have been receptive to the program, noting it’s been a great help for our community. The expansion is part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative, which extended flexibilities to allow free meals to continue to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-2021 school year.
The unprecedented move is part of USDA’s efforts to ensure all children across the country have access to nutritious food as the nation continues through the pandemic.
“We have many excited students and parents. This is definitely helping families during this COVID craziness, just being one less thing for them to worry about,” Young explained. “The feedback from families has been phenomenal. They are so appreciative and thankful, and it’s such a huge relief during this trying time. I also have to give credit to my hardworking, motivated staff. They love these kids and are going above and beyond to do all they can to keep everyone fed under unusual and uncommon circumstances.”
Young said they’ve seen more traditional on-campus students taking advantage of school lunches this year, while meals are also now available for curbside pick-up for students who are sent home to quarantine, or doing their classes virtually this year. The feeding program also provided meals to local students and families while school was out during the summer.
“For example at Cullman High School, where the students are on a hybrid schedule, we send home breakfasts and lunches for the remote days when they are not attending in-class instruction. We’ve also recently started sending home weekend meals and holiday meals at some schools, depending on whether we have enough food from our distributors,” Young explained. “We really want to stress these curbside meals are available to students that are quarantined, or attending virtually. Also, any child under 18 can pick up these meals, so families could benefit if they have toddlers at home, or in preschool.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the hope is the expansion of these feeding programs will help ensure students and families are able to get through the pandemic.
“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Perdue said in a statement. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now."