AURORA | Potential changes to federal student food assistance could mean that Aurora Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District will have fewer lunches for students in the coming school year.
At the start of the pandemic, the USDA expanded its school lunch programs, and until the end of last school year, all students were allowed to receive free school meals, without families having to fill out paperwork to qualify for meals.
After being extended for the 2021-2022 school year, the repeal of the pre-pandemic rules was due to expire at the end of June, but on Tuesday a bipartisan group of lawmakers submitted a bill to Congress that would extend the repeal until the summer.
According to report from NPRif passed, the law would increase reimbursement rates for districts during the 2022-2023 school year, but would require families to return to filling out applications to qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
After greatly increasing food delivery during the pandemic years, APS and CCSD are now implementing their regular summer meal programs pending the expiration of USDA waiver rules. District officials say demand has decreased since last summer but is still up.
“It has a different face this summer, but the need is still there,” said Shannon Solomon, director of nutrition services at APS.
Cherry Creek School District opens food outlets at four locations in June and July. So far, they’ve been serving 150 to 180 meals a day, according to food and nutrition director Kim Kilgore, up from more than 800 a day last summer.
The USDA’s waiver allowed the county to offer takeaway food during the pandemic, but the usual requirement is for families to eat food on the spot, reducing their numbers, Kilgore said.
Last summer, the area could offer breakfast and lunch during the summer, but it is inconvenient for families to come to the site twice in a few hours, so only lunch is offered this summer. The takeaway model was much more convenient for families, Kilgore said.
Along with four of its own facilities, Cherry Creek is partnering with APS and the City of Aurora to help food service staff at Utah and Mission Viejo parks.
“It was a really great partnership,” she said.
The Aurora Public Schools Nutrition Division, which served the colossal eight million servings community members between March 2020 and July 2021, currently serving 4,000 to 4,500 meals per week.
The district has partnered with the city of Aurora to deliver food to the community, and its rules are less strict. It still offers takeaway food and caters to everyone in the community aged 18 and under.
Solomon said the district partnered with the city during the school year to feed students during recess, and then the city asked them to cooperate during the summer.
“They wanted to help with food, but we have good food here,” she said.
In the coming school year, both districts are planning a massive marketing campaign to encourage families to fill out applications for free and reduced meals, as many have weaned from the habit over the past two years. Applications for the following year begin on July 1 and are open throughout the financial year.
Both districts increased the number of meals given out after all students became eligible for free meals. Kilgore said that at Cherry Creek, breakfast has doubled from 6,000 to 12,000 and lunch has increased by about 30% from 19,000 to 26,000. She said universal free meals would reduce the program’s stigma.
Solomon said that APS increased by 10-12%. She hopes many of these families will fill out applications so they can continue to receive free meals, and said APS has many different ways to help people in the community who need food.
“If we cannot help you, we have many partners,” she said.
She knew the denial wouldn’t last forever, but said it was a huge help to the county during the pandemic.
“For the past two years, we have been working with universal nutrition for everyone, which has taken the stigma off and been great,” she said.
A bill sponsored by Aurora legislators could keep that if it is approved by voters. HB 1414, Healthy Meals for All Public School Students, will reimburse Colorado school districts for meals provided to students who are not federally eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Rep. Daphne Mikaelson Janet and Senator Rhonda Fields co-sponsored the bill, which will only go into effect if it is approved in a vote this November.
The initiative is backed by the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado, which found in a 2021 survey that 44% of Colorado households with children struggle to access nutritious food on a regular basis, and 16% of Colorado children are undernourished because their families are not getting enough food. . I have enough money for food.
“Children should not starve in our schools and we cannot fight hunger in schools without partnering with Hunger Free Colorado, advocates and voters,” Fields said on social media Wednesday. “I can tell you firsthand, it’s hard to study when your stomach is empty.”
Cherry Creek meal times and locations can be found at https://www.cherrycreekschools.org/freemeals.
Information about times and locations of food distribution at Aurora Public Schools can be found at https://bit.ly/39J3gOo.