All students enrolled in Bulloch County Schools can eat school lunches for free for a limited time, retroactive to Sept. 1 and forward indefinitely, possibly till Dec. 18, by a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision.
School breakfasts were already free to all students here, and the breakfast and lunch programs are both federally funded through the USDA’s School Food and Nutrition Service.
“This unprecedented move was announced by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on August 31, and will provide the school district the necessary funds and flexibility to supply children with nutritious food for free as our community continues to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” states the news release provided by Hayley Greene, Bulloch County Schools public relations director.
The school district temporarily stopped accepting meal payments Sept. 7. For any students who charged meals or paid to eat meals Sept. 1-4, the cost of those meals will be credited or reimbursed back to the students’ school meal accounts.
As for an end-date, USDA stated that funding for the all-free meals could end Dec. 31 or earlier, and local officials hope it will last until Dec. 18, the end of the school district’s fall semester, which is followed by the two-week break for winter holidays. But there is no guarantee of this, and the USDA cannot promise to extend the all-free program beyond current funding authorized by Congress, Greene explained.
Families should still complete form
The school system is urging families to still complete a free and reduced-price meal application by Sept. 29, to ensure assistance with school meals when this temporary waiver ends, which could be Dec. 18 or earlier.
“If your child was a student in the school district last year and he or she qualified for either free or reduced-priced meals last year, your family's application will only be valid through Sept.29 …,” the announcement states. “A new, approved application must be on file to receive free or reduced-price meals once the temporary USDA waiver ends.”
Bulloch County Schools provided printed applications to students at the beginning of the school year, or parents or guardians can complete an online application at www.myschoolapps.com.
Virtual meals, too
The all-free lunch declaration also applies to the meal boxes for students learning through the virtual option at home. With these meals, which are boxed for weekly pickup and include items frozen for thawing and reheating, breakfasts were also already free, but a five-day box of lunches carried the same cost as five days of in-school lunches for families paying the full or reduced price.
Now, the virtual-option lunches are also free, but families still need to pre-order and pick up meals weekly, following the established routines.
Complete information about this service can be found on the school system website, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us or through any of the individual schools’ websites.
Since March, the USDA has put multiple waivers in place that extended both its Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Option programs. This enabled Bulloch County Schools to serve nearly 345,000 free meals to children from March through July while schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Locally, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s nationwide waivers allowed:
Meals to be served in all areas and at no cost to families;
Meals to be served outside of the usually required group settings and meal times. This waiver makes the Bulloch County Schools’ weekly meal service to virtual-learning families possible, Greene wrote;
Meal pattern requirements to be changed as necessary;
Parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children. This waiver also accommodates virtual-learning families.