Students, schools adjusting to way meals are served

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Nearly every student in Kansas can get a free meal during the coronavirus outbreak thanks to a federal government program.

Barbara Alstrom is the food service manager at Washburn Rural High School in Shawnee County. Her meal preparation has looked different this year, but she knows students need to eat.

“There is a need for a good nutritious meal, yes, those kids need those meals,” she said.

Washburn Rural has nearly 2,000 students. They are using a hybrid schedule, so each day about half the school could be learning subjects in their living room. On those days students have the option to pick up a to-go lunch and breakfast for the next day.

“We have to package. It has to be handed out. We’re not putting it on a tray like we would have last year, everything has to be in a container, so lot more work,” Alstrom said.

The state is receiving money from the federal government for the free lunches. That program is expected to run out at the end of this year, but Congress is debating a bill that would extend it for the entire school year, something that state officials are hoping for.

“Families across Kansas are struggling, some that have never struggled before, because of either job furloughs, reduced number of days, or jobs where there are days of quarantine,” said Cheryl Johnson, director of child nutrition and wellness for the Kansas Department of Education.

“Being able to serve all children free during this time where there is economic uncertainty for a lot of families truly is a wonderful benefit to Kansans,” Johnson said.

Education officials said you can tell how important the program is to students and families.

“They’re getting thank you notes and all of these special kind of forms of appreciation that often you don’t see, so we know how much it is needed,” Johnson said.

Alstrom said the same thing, but she hopes more people start to get meals.

“Everybody that I’ve handed out to is very appreciative, and they love the food,” Alstrom said. “I think there’s still some out there that we could get to.”

Officials encourage everyone, of all income levels to take advantage of the free lunch program. If you skip out on a meal when your student is doing online learning, the school receives less money, which can impact whether a school can pay food service workers.

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