(Update: School meals are FREE to ALL students through 2022! Read about that here or on your child’s school district website.)
I previously shared a guide to finding free meals for your kids and family in Minnesota during this time of quarantine. A major source of this food is school districts around the state and nation. We’ve been picking up this free food since shortly after it started.
The above picture shows a sampling of what my kids get from their school. I drive up and am given a paper bag with food for each child. Typically they just put it directly in my trunk, no questions asked (other than “For how many kids?”). The food is different every week, but always includes main entrees, fruits, vegetables, snacks and milk. There are also treats – today they got cookies!
The food is distributed twice a week in our district, but it’s enough to last a week. Other districts have pickup every day or at set times during the week. There are also ways to get the food dropped off near your home by bus, which some districts are offering.
A peek inside the bags we get:
When I pick up the food, I keep learning directly from the food workers why it’s so important for ALL families to pick up the food.
I also seen social media posts or conversations in mom’s groups on Facebook, encouraging families to pick up the food.
You may have been thinking “I don’t need the food for my kids – I’d rather it go to someone who needs it.”
But this is actually not how it works.
For example, the food workers at my child’s school they tell me if it doesn’t get picked up, it gets thrown away! I was shocked when I learned this. But there are other reasons to pick it up too. Here are 5 I’ve concluded from talking to school workers, reading articles, reading school district websites, and from having picked up the food for our family for the past few weeks.
NOTE: Check with your school district to confirm this information with them, as districts differ, and information is continually changing during this time.
5 Reasons to Pick Up the Free Food from Your Child’s School District
1. In many districts, the food is free to all kids 18 and under, no questions asked. Regardless of your level of need, it saves you money on food for your kids. If you don’t need it but can use it, you can donate the money you save to food shelves or other charitable organizations. Also, note that need can be financial, situational or emotional (which Lakeville school district stated – see in comments below).
2. For many districts, when the food is not picked up, the school district may receive less funding, which can lead to not being able to offer as much food, as well as employee layoffs. The food is reimbursed by the federal government on a per meal basis. The more kids they feed, the more reimbursement they get. The fewer they feed, the less they get. See details on the Minnesota Department of Education website.
Plus, even with all kids now being eligible for the free food, fewer meals may actually being served than during a typical school year, leading to potential shortfalls in the future. This article explains it well.
Also read this post from Hopkins School District: “When you order meals through the Hopkins Nutrition Department you are supporting the department. We receive reimbursement for each meal served. When you place an order for free student meals, you are helping to provide much needed financial support for the student meals program. No need to qualify. All kids under 18 are eligible.”
Here’s one from Roseville & St. Anthony schools:
“‘I want to save meals for those who really need it.’ We have heard this comment through out our Roseville Area Schools community and we want ensure you that we have enough food for all. In fact, not only do these meals support students, they support our department. Please join us at any of our stops (link below). We can’t wait to see you there!”
(However, again, check with your school district first as this differs between districts. Some have reported that their funding works differently.)
3. It can save the food from turning to waste! In some school districts, if the food isn’t picked up, it has to be thrown away! I have been told this by the food workers at my child’s school. When I drive up they ask me if I have more kids to pick up food for – they want people taking as many bags of it as they can use! They just want as many kids fed as possible so it doesn’t get tossed! (On the plus side, some districts do ask for families to order the food beforehand so they have a better count to minimize waste, and some do donate leftover food to food pantries. Thankfully, many schools have been improving how their food is distributed. However, they are only reimbursed for food they distribute to kids, so they may not be reimbursed for food used for another purpose.)
4. It’s comforting to kids to have familiar foods from their school. My kids love eating foods they would normally get at the school, and drinking milk from the little cartons they only get there as well. It’s hard enough missing normal school life – this gives them a little “taste” of it at home, and reminds them every day that the school misses them and wants to still take care of them.
5. It saves you some stress of feeding your kids, as most of the food is ready-to-eat. There are typically individual servings of cereal, milk, sandwiches, fruit, veggies, snacks and more. Kids can just grab it and eat it. It has saved me a lot of time and hassle so instead of cooking or trying to figure out what to feed them, I can focus more on helping my kids learn!
I believe there are other reasons – for example, it guarantees healthful options for your kids, and is fun for kids to drive up to their schools and see some familiar faces, if even just through their car windows!
Thank you, schools and employees, for feeding our kids!
There are many ways and places to get food for free – and your child may not need to be in the school district. (For example, if your child is homeschooled, they may still qualify. However, all districts are different – check beforehand).
However, please note I do NOT encourage anyone taking advantage of the free food. Take it only if you can use it or share it. I want school districts to provide for those who need it, but I don’t want school districts overwhelmed. Please check with your school district for details.
If your school district does not encourage pick-up of food by all, it may be because they had less than 30% free or reduced-price eligible students prior to COVID-19. Those that have had over 30% are prioritized for reimbursement, and the rest will be considered after those that are prioritized.
However, the government understands that many families are in need who may not have qualified before, and are working to expand access to the free food.
“The USDA Food and Nutrition Service recognizes that during the current public health emergency, households in areas that do not meet the criteria of poor economic conditions may be facing financial hardship. On April 3, 2020, the USDA issued a waiver to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) related to the restrictions of site eligibility requirements. This waiver allows SFSP sponsors in good standing to operate open sites in areas approved by MDE.”
In other words, everyone SHOULD be able to access the food, but some districts are having to go through a longer process to be reimbursed, if they do choose to apply.