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Schools prepare for loss of free breakfasts and lunches for their students

The USDA has issued waivers for free school meals since spring 2020, but the waivers end June 30.

WHITEHOUSE, Ohio — Since spring of 2020, school meals have been free thanks to federal waivers from the USDA meant to help ease the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that funding is likely going away after this school year.

"We have had double, if not triple participation at both breakfast and lunch in all of our buildings." said Megan Menchaca, food services director at Anthony Wayne Local Schools.

Megan says since the child nutrition waivers were awarded in 2020, her staff of 22 has served thousands of breakfasts and lunches everyday.

But that federal waiver program will be ending June 30.

She wants to make sure families across the region are aware of the change and that they knew options are available.

"Some of these families have never had to fill out a free or reduced application, whether their finances have changes or whether they've never had a student that has experienced this. So we want to be able to help the families walk through this for the first time," Menchaca said.

Credit: Jon Monk
Anthony Wayne Schools employs 22 staff at their 6 school buildings

If federal lawmakers don't pass the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021, meal policies will go back to the way they were before the pandemic started.

Which could mean fewer students getting a hot meal everyday.

And Menchaca said seeing how many kids took advantage of the free meals over the last two years, it shows how vital the school meals are.

"It was good that they had free lunches, especially for kids who couldn't afford to buy lunches. And I kind of think it's like a shame, I think they should keep the free lunches," seventh-grader Harper Pawlaczyk said.

"It really has opened people's eyes, and everywhere I go I get very good compliments, and I have to give it back to my staff, because they've done an amazing job this year," Menchaca said.

And Menchaca said if you have begun to financially rely on the free breakfast or school lunches, make sure you fill out a application for a free or reduced-price lunch for next school year over the summer.