Thanks to a grant donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Oct. 5, 2020, all students in the Sioux Falls School District will receive free lunch and breakfast throughout the school year in an effort to provide some relief to families in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Seamless Summer program, which originally started in the spring of 2020, provided meals to students while school was out of session. Since the closing of school campuses in March, this program has provided roughly 90,628 lunches and 91,242 breakfasts to families in need. This number is a little over three times more than what the district provides on average each summer. The program has been officially extended as of Oct. 5, 2020, and will even refund any school meal that has been purchased since the beginning of September so students can use that credit for future meals.
In order to receive this grant, the district had to apply to be accepted to the Seamless Summer need-based program. Data released from the district last fall showed that roughly 49% of elementary school students were dependent on the free and reduced lunch and breakfast program.
“We had to justify [the grant] by showing certain metrics about how many of our students are free and reduced lunch, we had an increase from last October to this year,” said Sioux Falls School Board president Cynthia Mickelson.
When the application was approved, the program was originally only supposed to provide free meals until Dec. 31, 2020, or until the funds ran out. But, on Oct. 15, all district families received an email announcing the program’s extension through the end of the school year. This program is retroactively in effect from Sept. 1, and funds paid after the start date have been credited back to students’ accounts. Families can choose to keep this balance in the account where it will be carried over until next school year, or they can request an outright refund though the Child Nutrition Office. In addition to this extension, all children in the district, even preschool-aged children not currently attending schools, now have access to these free meals.
Across the district, all schools will certainly benefit from this program as a whole. Just at LHS alone, 600-700 breakfasts and lunches are served to students each day, whether they are on free and reduced lunch or not. Data recorded by the administration in 2019 shows that 29.8% of students at LHS are on free and reduced lunch. While data is not yet available for the current school year, this number is not expected to fluctuate by much, according to LHS Principal Dr. Laura Raeder.
Now with all school meals being free, LHS is expecting there to be an increase in the number served since all students will have access to them at no charge. Only breakfast and lunch are free, however; any second milk, an additional meal or a la carte items will need to be purchased. Dr. Raeder is unsure of just how much money was provided for this aid to be possible, or if the district will be able to continue this program for years to come, but she is hopeful.
“Even when the funds run out, we will simply continue to find ways to help families,” said Dr. Raeder.