Longevity of program depends on district parents
By Barbie Porter
The free meal opportunity with the Frazee-Vergas School District is wrapping up another year of the successful program.
Each Monday through Thursday, Food Services Manager Cheryl Neyens greets and serves residents, daycares and those attending summer school and latch key programs. On average there are between 165 and 200 people that utilize the meal offering.
The Minnesota Department of Education gave its stamp of approval for the school to be part of the Summer Food Nutrition Program. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program provides free breakfasts and lunches those 0-18 years old. Adults were also provided the opportunity to purchase a healthy meal for $6.85 a day.
A staff of three works in the district kitchen to prepare the meals fresh, and this year they provided meals to-go. Neyens explained the COVID-19 pandemic switched the program up a bit. Before those eating a meal would do so at the school. However, to reduce gatherings and chances for transmission of the virus, the schools were directed to provide meals on the go.
Free summer meals depend on families filling out a form
The well used program may come to an end if more families don’t fill out Free and Reduced Lunch applications.
Business Manager Chrissy Clapsaddle explained the program is tied to the number of families in the district that qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program. If the number of families receiving the service declines, so do the additional benefits the school receives.
Some people may be hesitant to fill out the application as it asks for wage earnings, or other information one may consider sensitive. Clapsaddle assured everyone that she is the only one in the district that sees the information before it is sent to the state. She added, the information is private and guarded as such.
Others may not fill out the application because they think they wouldn’t qualify. But, the assistance is based on income and household size, so many may find a pleasant surprise by taking the time to fill out the form.
“There are some that are automatically eligible, too,” she said. “If a family has a foster child, is on snap or is homeless, they are all automatically eligible for Free and Reduced Lunches.”
Applications can be found online at the district website, www.frazee.k12.mn.us. Once there go to the magnifying glass that is located in the upper right side of the page. Type in Free and Reduced Lunch application and click on the corresponding link.
Clapsaddle said the district saw a large decline in the number of people submitting applications last year, as all students received free meals, much like the upcoming year. The funds received by the Free and Reduced program go beyond the lunchroom. To encourage families to continue filling out the form, she said the district is looking to offer a discounted rate to games and athletic fees for those who qualify.
Upcoming excitement in the lunchroom
When the school year begins this fall, Neyens said a different program offered by USDA is picking up the tab for students to eat breakfast and lunch at school.
The only thing that will still have a cost to students are the items offered on the à la carte at the high school.
Those at the elementary school in grades 3-6 may also be in for a surprise. Neyes said last year the district provided those grades their meals in the classroom. While table side service is nice, it meant those kids were not able to enjoy the new fruit and veggie bar.
She is hoping this year those kids will get that opportunity and enjoy the additional healthy choices being offered.