The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently announced changes to their School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to accommodate for this coming school year. The SBP and NSLP provide financially eligible public school students with free meals. Most of the students who qualify for the breakfasts and lunches are food insecure and therefore depend on the schools to fulfill their daily nutritional needs. The organization’s goal this year first and foremost is to ensure that the children who need the meals the most have access to them. Subsequently, the USDA has stressed the importance of evaluating each community’s needs individually, emphasizing that “a one-size-fits-all approach to meal service simply won’t cut it,” as Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

Previously, the USDA allowed students to choose some of their meal options. Whether this meant opting between an orange and an apple, the practice is known as “offer versus serve.” However, in order to practice social distancing, it would be in the best interest of public health to discontinue the practice. By eliminating the option to choose, the USDA is allowing the transition to normal operations to proceed faster. Instead, meals will be prepackaged and students will be able to grab them and go. Other flexibilities the USDA is making include: allowing meals to be served that are outside of normal meal pattern requirements to prioritize feeding children, serving meals outside of groups settings and standard times, and allowing parents or guardians to pick-up the meals instead of students (when online learning is in session). 

Flexibilities were already made this summer to continue providing meals without drawbacks. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) under the USDA has various resources on its website to guide families locating such meals. One resource is their Meals for Kids website which locates the nearest summer meal sites for kids 18 and under. Additionally, FNS is in charge of 15 nutrition assistance programs to provide meals for low-income families and children. The FNS website also has a link to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a scientific nutritional resource.

In regards to the Baltimore County community, the USDA’s modified guidelines have brought great joy to many. In summer 2020, USDA has decided that any location in Baltimore County (and the US) can serve free summer meals that are open to all kids, and can serve as a grab and go site. This is different from past years when meals could only be served in areas with 50% or more students eligible for free or reduced priced meals and kids had to stay on site to consume most of the meal. This is how meals have been served in the county since March 2020 due to COVID, and USDA extended these rules through August 31. If you are interested in serving meals, you can contact Kara Panowitz, No Kid Hungry MD at kpanowitz@strength.org or 410-205-1013.

Simultaneously, this summer the Baltimore Hunger Project (BHP) has been feeding children facing food insecurity with the help of volunteers. After schools moved to remote learning, the weekend gap the BHP was focused on filling became a dire issue. Although the pandemic made it harder for the BHP to purchase the food needed, the volunteers never stopped feeding the children.

July 1st, 2020

Guest Blogger: Celina Liu