Carroll County’s free summer lunch program, vital for thousands of children, faces uncertainty as federal support falters – Baltimore Sun

Over the past two years, hundreds of thousands of free meals have been distributed to children in Carroll County during the summer months thanks to increased federal funding from the US Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service program. In 2020, the county received nearly $1 million for the summer food program and distributed nearly 300,000 meals. In 2021, the numbers were even higher. Carroll Schools received $1.55 million and served more than 447,000 meals.

That’s compared to the $30,000 CCPS received for the program in the last “normal” pre-pandemic year, 2019. That year, the school system was only able to serve 8,778 free meals to children. in June, July and August.

CCPS Food Services Supervisor Karen Sarno and her staff were set to return to 2019 levels this summer as the federal waiver program that provided increased funding and allowed meals to be donated and eaten offsite was set to expire on June 30. .

But the Keep Kids Fed Act was passed by Congress late last week and signed by President Joe Biden on June 25. The bill aims to keep the rules for summer meal programs as they were in 2020 and 2021 so sites can operate in any community with need, rather than just where there is a strong concentration of low-income children, and provide take-out meals. It also offers schools the ability to substitute certain types of food without being fined if they encounter supply chain issues, according to The Associated Press.

The full details are not yet known, and the timing of the bill’s passage has left local school systems with little time to plan and a lot of confusion.

CCPS has only opened one site for the distribution of lunches so far this summer, and children must eat the meal on site, instead of taking the components home, as they were allowed to do. in 2020 and 2021. During those summers, families in Carroll County were received 14 meals — seven breakfasts and seven lunches — per child at a time and were able to take them home.

“We did a great service to the community, and I feel people benefited from that,” Sarno said.

Starting June 21, kids get a free weekday lunch at the Taneytown Library, 10 Grand Drive, from noon to 1 p.m. This site will remain open until September 2.

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Sarno said she is awaiting official guidance from the USDA and the Maryland State Department of Education before she can finalize plans for any other sites where free food might be offered this summer.

CCPS had planned to open breakfast and lunch sites at Taneytown Elementary and Northwest Middle in Taneytown; William Winchester Elementary, Robert Moton Elementary, Westminster Middle, Carroll Springs School and Winters Mill High in Westminster; and Manchester Valley High in Manchester on July 11 and run them until August 5, for children attending summer programs there. Hours of service and other details are yet to be determined, she said.

In Carroll County, one in five children qualify for free or reduced-price meals in the public school system, Sarno said. But the number of children eligible for federal aid is spread over a wide geographic area, making it difficult to serve all the students who need food each summer.

The federal program is set up to help areas that have large pockets of low-income families. For an area to qualify for the Summer Food Service program outside of waiver periods, a school had to have at least 50% of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The only CCPS schools that meet this standard are Taneytown Elementary (59.27%), Robert Moton Elementary (58.16%), Gateway School (58.1%) and Crossroads Middle (57.14%), according to the data. of October 2021 from the MSDE.

Other schools, such as Elmer Wolfe Elementary and Northwest Middle make up about 40%, and while many children could benefit from a free lunch program in the summer, those areas would not be eligible for federal funding.

“There are still children who live in rural areas who need help,” Sarno said, but getting food to them is more difficult. Food pantry programs and church groups are filling in the gaps, she said.

“I worry – we all see what’s happening in grocery stores,” Sarno said. “These low- and middle-income households [are] who it affects the most. You worry about these households because [money is] becomes more and more tight.

Ryan H. Bowman