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Chatham County Schools will continue to provide free meals to children 18 years old and younger through 2020 or until further notice, following an Aug. 31 announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will extend waiver flexibility for school nutrition programs.
The USDA’s extension allows schools to continue participating in the summer nutrition programs — which allow every child 18 years old and younger to receive meals at no cost and without requiring proof of enrollment at CCS.
Before this change, CCS School Nutrition Services announced in mid-August that it would resume normal school breakfast and lunch programs on Aug. 31, which would have meant meals were only available to enrolled CCS students through 12 curbside pickup sites.
“We’re trying to just stay as consistent as possible, because families are having to deal with so much change right now,” Jennifer Özkurt, the director of school nutrition services for CCS, told the News + Record when the announcement regarding the halting of free meals was made.
CCS will continue offering meals Monday through Friday, with Friday meals available for pick-up Thursday at curbside and mobile locations. At all locations, a three-component breakfast and five-component lunch will be provided to the student or guardian. Adults can purchase a breakfast for $3 and lunch for $5. Meals can be picked up at the following curbside locations from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
The drop-off for meals at the mobile sites run routes in Siler City and North Chatham from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. The screenshot below shows the schedule for those two routes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, 46% of Chatham County’s public school students received free and reduced price meals, the News + Record reported in May. Even before the economic impacts of the coronavirus hit, there were already a number of students — around 4,200, Özkurt said at the time — who relied on the school system for regular meals.
Between March 17 to Aug. 14, CCS provided 388,050 free meals in Chatham County, Özkurt said. In mid-August, she anticipated more students would receive free or reduced priced meals this year, based on the negative economic impacts of the pandemic and high unemployment rates in North Carolina. At the time, she encouraged every family to apply for benefits, which can be done online or on paper — though online applications get processed much more quickly, within 72 hours of being completed.
Though free meals have been extended, families should continue to apply for free and reduced priced meal benefits, according to the district’s website, and they can do so at any time during the school year. If the free meals are not continued in 2021, all students receiving reduced-priced meals — both breakfast and lunch — will be subsidized by the USDA at no charge through 2021.
“We know that many people are having to make that sacrifice to stay home with their children because there children are at home,” Özkurt said in August. “So if you just kind of look at all the variable factors related to the school, I know that there’s going to be that need and people should just really take advantage of the service that is there.”
Paper applications for free and reduced priced meals are available at all CCS schools or in the district’s main offices at 369 West St. in Pittsboro and online applications can be submitted at https://www.lunchapplication.com/.
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com.