Federally backed free lunch program comes to Michigan, Holt
Students and staff discuss benefits of new USDA program
By Jacob McMillen
Students nationwide who were once unable to eat a meal every day have no more need to worry.
Schools around the United States are receiving aid from the federal government to supply students with free meals.
Lisa Rowan from Forbes talked about the lunch plans in relation to the new school year and the pandemic.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in April that free meals would be available to all students during the 2021-2022 school year. It’s an extension of adjustments the department made at the start of the pandemic to feed students across the country who were taking part in remote learning,” said Rowan.
“I think the free lunch program that they've come out with, it's been just absolutely fantastic. You know, it's something that, you know, should have been done a very long time ago, very long time ago, ”Director of Food Services for Holt Public Schools Evan Robertson said.
Robertson spoke about where funding for the program comes from. He described where the free lunch costs come from, and the different programs that became available over last year.
“[This program] came about because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in part with all of the emergency spending measures from Congress, was allocated funds. So they took the allocations and made up things like the pandemic [debit] cards, free lunch on the farm, family box program, and a lot of other things, too. That was just our perks. So really, it's just your federal tax dollars at work, pretty much,” Robertson said. “And then this year, they allocated funds again, but we've switched programs now. So last school year, we were in what's called the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). This year, we're in the National School Lunch Program, Seamless Summer Option, or NSLP SSL.”
The USDA describes the Summer Food Service Program as a federally funded, state administered program.
“SFSP reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas,” its website reads.
Holt’s new system, NSLP SSL, is a program that not only supplies students with food in the summer, but during the school year, as well. The USDA says the point of the plan is to feed students in and out of the traditional school year.
“Schools participating in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program are eligible to apply for the Seamless Summer Option. Seamless Summer has less paperwork, making it easier for schools to feed children during the traditional summer vacation periods and, for year-round schools, long school vacation periods,” the USDA website states.
Students, whether they eat free lunch or not, generally support the program.
Sophomore Tyler Morris said that free lunch is great for students without consistent meals.
“I feel like it's helpful. I know a lot of people don't have that opportunity or the resources at home to make their own lunch,” Morris said.
Freshman Jaylinn Lawless also said that free lunch is a way for more students to eat. Without making students pay to eat, it allows students to eat if they want or need.
“I feel like it's easy for the people that got to pay for it. It gets more people to eat, ” Lawless said.
Moreover, food services employee Megan R said that free lunch is a great thing for students.
“I think it's a great way for all of the kids to be able to come in and just be able to get that meal. Because I know sometimes, especially right now with the pandemic, and people just starting to get back to work, [it] could be a little hard for some of the parents to keep food in the house.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Hall talked about the timing of the introduction of free lunch. Hall said that free lunch should have been something that was introduced earlier.
“I think [free lunch] should always have been established because, like, we don't know anyone's wait,” Hall said.
Robertson hopes that the current free lunch program has the ability to become a long-lasting program.
Said Robertson, “My hope would be yes, they would continue it because they're going to have almost three years worth of some really solid data, you know, solid numbers and how much does it cost. Because, frankly, it's a really simple decision. Right?”
Students at Holt High School eat lunch during A lunch at the main campus. Many students take part in the federally funded free lunch program.
Photo credit: Jacob McMillen