Feeding Kids After School Ends

Kelli Caseman, Executive Director

It’s hard to tell that the school year’s almost over, isn’t it? Even though we’re in the process of reopening the state, we’re still mostly hovering around the house. Zooming. Binge watching. Maybe gardening.

But depending on what county you live in here in West Virginia, your school year may be quickly coming to a close, and with that comes the question: Who’s going to feed the students?

Historically, we know that the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) runs a summer feeding program, but it has been an underused system.

Last week, we asked Amanda Harrison with the WVDE Office of Child Nutrition to join us for one of our Kids/COVID-19 webinars, and she had some re-assuring information to share. It’s a bit complicated, and as always—check and see what’s going on in your county. None of this is a uniform, statewide program. It’s piecemeal, but if we all help get the word out, there should be enough resources out there to keep kids fed during the summer break. 

A few weeks ago, Governor Justice directed that the school feeding programs across the state continue, but many will need to be modified. For example, if a county school system doesn’t employ bus drivers during the summer, there won’t be buses delivering food to bus stops once school ends in your county.

WVDE is still recruiting sites around the state to participate in the Summer Food Service Program—places like summer camps, or other programs that traditionally serve kids but may have cancelled typical programming over the summer, due to the pandemic. If you’re one of those types of programs, here’s how to participate. Tell your friends! The more sites, the easier access is for kids and families.

Here’s another resource that will provide food assistance to kids over summer break: the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Card. This program was introduced in H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as a way to deliver food assistance on an EBT card that can be used to purchase groceries for families with school children participate in the national school lunch program. You can read more about the USDA’s COVID-19 Waivers & Program Flexibilities here. There’s also a wealth of information on WVDE’s Pandemic EBT website.

Now, listen. This is where you may (like me) get confused. If your child already qualifies for free or reduced-price meals, or your child attends a Community Eligible Provision school where students eat at no cost, there’s nothing you need to do. The program has an opt-out clause, not an opt-in. You can go to WVDE’s website and opt-out. Or, you can use the card to purchase food to donate to a needy family, but you can’t give the card to the family.

This benefit is also available to private schools that participate in the national school lunch program. Also—say your child didn’t qualify for free/reduced lunch previously, but now you’re out of work. Go to School Cafe and see if you qualify. If you do, register.

If you already receive SNAP benefits, you won’t receive another card. The funding will be loaded onto the card with your SNAP benefits.  

One more technicality—this funding, which comes to about $5.70 a day per child for breakfast and lunch—is compensation for missed meals while schools were closed. Students are being reimbursed for the meals they didn’t receive. I share because this funding is finite. More funding may be coming after this is expended. If needed, nationally and locally, folks like us at Think Kids will be advocating for them to be reloaded over the summer.

So to sum up: Some time over the next month, your county school system will be closing for the summer. The process of how your county is currently feeding students is probably going to change. Some counties are proactive and are sharing this info with local media, like Mason County and Upshur County. If yours isn’t, be proactive. Contact your paper and ask them to cover these changes. Make sure your county school system is sharing it online, too.

While social media is also a great place to share this information, there’s a lot of misinformation out there right now. What’s that phrase… “bright spots and landmines.” Pointing folks towards trusted sources of information is always helpful.

Finally, thanks to WVDE and WVDHHR for applying for federal funding opportunities to not only help feed kids, but to help infuse over $70 million into West Virginia’s economy. Thanks to the community partners who are stepping up to serve as summer feeding sites. And thanks to those of you who have keep your eyes open and shared updates on the resources and challenges to feeding kids in your community. You inspire us all to do better.