(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) For students living in food insecure homes, going to school during the COVID-19 pandemic has added another level of uncertainty.
Monday was the first day of Hybrid learning for students in the St. Joseph School District. For students learning from a mix of in-person learning and at home, the district said it's essential students still receive their two free meals per day.
“We do see a need in the community," said Brian Tarr, SJSD Director of Nutrition Services, "there is some concern that some students may go without meals."
Community leaders said for a lot of families in the SJSD, school meals are their only guaranteed meals for the day and making sure those meals continue regardless of teaching method is essential.
“We have kids come knock on our door and tell us they’re hungry and we go in our pockets or our cupboard for them," said Shelia Gilbert, Founder of Food for Kids.
Tarr said the district feeds approximately 8,000 students a day.
17 of the 22 schools in the district have 51% of more students on free or reduced lunch, qualifying them for the USDA's Seamless Summer Program.
“At first, it was told December. We just got confirmation that it will go until the end of June,” said Tarr.
With the district going hybrid, nutrition services said they're making sure students are getting their fruits and veggies, no matter where they're learning.
“Even when we do virtual or hybrid meal pickups, they get a breakfast and lunch for each day they aren’t in school," said Tarr.
Carden Park Elementary school's nutrition manager said having to pack meals for virtual and hybrid students has been an added challenge to their workload.
“Say if on Tuesday, 40 students pick up, we send 120 breakfasts and 120 lunches cause that takes them through the three days. In the meantime, we’re still doing our normal meals here. It’s quite a shuffle of things,” said Donita Swafford, Carden Park Elementary Nutrition Manager.
Hybrid and Virtual parents can pick up their student(s) meals on Wednesdays, drive thru style from 12 - 12:30 p.m.
The district said for families to qualify for meal pick up, they will need to submit their meal request form every week by Thursday at noon for meal pickups the following week.
According to the SJSD's website, meal pick up locations will be at all school sites except for Central, Bode, Ellison, Field, Oak Grove and Webster. However, the district said families can pick up from any available school, it doesn't have to be their "home school."
Cafeteria staff said they wished more families were taking advantage of these two free daily meals.
“Enrollment here at Carden Park is like 650 students, so knowing that we’re at least feeding 400-500 of them still makes me worry about the ones that aren’t participating in this. I’m hoping and praying that their parents are able to take care of their needs in that way,” said Swafford.
While Tarr said the Seamless Summer program has been extended to next June, community leaders hope the free meals last long enough to get families through this pandemic and academic challenge.
"When the school can help out feed the kids...cause the churches have closed down. So, when the churches closed their doors, the gap has closed," said Gilbert.
To fill out the meal pick up form, visit the SJSD's website.