Free school meals remain available until the end of 2020

Whether students are learning from home or in school, they will have free access to meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday.

“This really streamlines things for us and makes it a little easier,” Sodexo Area Manager Kyle Micken said. “Nobody likes to turn a 1-year-old away for a meal.”

Sodexo is in charge of nutrition services for most school districts in Douglas County, including Roseburg. 

USDA had been providing free meals for children up to 18 since schools closed in March and extended this program until Dec. 31.

Over the last four months, food insecurity in Oregon rose to one in three children, up from one in eight, according to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

“As school buildings closed and families lost income in March, school meals became more important than ever–a real lifeline that is essential to stay healthy and engaged in learning, and supports communities in crisis,” said Annie Kirschner of the nonprofit Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “If these waivers hadn’t been extended, daily meals would have been unaffordable for many families. Kids would have been without food, which is unacceptable. We’re glad that the federal government listened to the concerns of parents and educators.”

The Oregon Department of Education released guidance to school districts Tuesday on how to provide access to food, Micken said.

Roseburg, Winston-Dillard, Glide and South Umpqua school districts had previously announced that a student identification would be required to pick up meals, but that will no longer be a requirement.

“We had to do a little bit of an about-face,” he said. The new guidance is the same as the guidance since March and has already been implemented at all school districts.

The meals will be available for any child between the ages of 1 and 18 at no cost. Students who receive on-site instruction will receive their meals at the school district.

Micken said it’s too early to see if the need at districts has improved. There was a large decrease over the summer, from 2,000 meals a day to 250 meals in the Roseburg School District, but there also were fewer delivery routes.

All meals will have breakfast and an option of hot and cold lunch. The meals will vary from day-to-day.

Parents are encouraged to contact their local school district to find out more and will soon be able to look up meal service locations at as information is updated.

On Tuesday, Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced they, along with 27 colleagues, are asking for the free school meal program to be extended through the end of the school year.

“The remaining waivers that you have not extended for the entire 2020-2021 school year are desperately needed by school meal providers across the country to ensure they have the funding, flexibility, and certainty to continue feeding schoolchildren for the entire upcoming school year. Many localities are dealing with budget shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are relying on federal assistance to keep providing meals,” wrote the senators. “Furthermore, millions of parents have lost their jobs in the past six months and are struggling to ensure that their children have access to nutritious and healthy meals. Many families are relying on school-provided meals as one of the only reliable sources of healthy food for their children.”