E. Holmes students can get breakfast, lunch at no cost

E. Holmes students can get breakfast, lunch at no cost
Dave Mast

The lunch bunch, Hiland High School’s cafeteria crew, is busy bagging lunches for students. Like East Holmes Schools, many school districts in the state are taking advantage of the free meal plan for every student, which means savings for families.

                        

During this pandemic time when unemployment is high and many families are pinching pennies wherever possible to meet budgets, families in East Holmes Schools have been afforded an opportunity to save money as the East Holmes School District takes advantage of the national push to provide free meals to all students in qualifying districts.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture has approved a program that allows the district’s child nutrition department to serve breakfast and lunch to students at no charge on scheduled school days through Dec. 31.

“We are in the process of communicating what is going on with everyone in the district right now,” East Holmes Schools superintendent Erik Beun said. “We’ve been given a really nice opportunity for our families to save some money with this program.”

This program, part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, allows East Holmes Schools to serve students while learning remotely as well. This program only covers the price of milk when included with a breakfast or lunch. All other milk will be charged at 50 cents, and extra entrees will be charged at $1.75 when included with a meal or $2 if purchased without a meal.

Melissa Biltz, East Holmes Schools nutrition specialist, said the program is a win-win for area families, who can save money on grocery bills and reduce the need to pack lunches every single day.

“This grew out of the CARES Act, and it really is a wonderful opportunity for families on a budget to save money and put those expenses toward something else as they fight their way through this pandemic and try to get back on their feet and back to normal,” Biltz said. “Hopefully, families will take advantage of this, whether they have been eating school lunches or packing up until now.”

Biltz said this is a win-win for the district’s families and the schools, although it will present some changes, and adapting to something new is always a challenge.

Biltz said families need to be aware there may be some days that menu changes due to availability of food could occur, depending on the availability of different food choices. She said the kitchen staff is preparing for what should be quite a few more daily meals.

The required meal patterns set forth by the USDA require staffs to serve from every vegetable subgroup including red/orange vegetables, dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, dried beans/legumes and other vegetables.

Biltz said the program will require some understanding from students and families as to what is offered, and while they may not like everything the menu has to offer on a given day, they might actually find something they like. She just hopes students are understanding when it comes to the menu.

“We would like your help in encouraging your students to try new things, but they do not need to express their dislikes to the cooks and others,” Biltz said. “Things might be a little different. In the past we have offered a wide variety of options, and that might get cut back.”

With social distancing comes the need to get students through the lunch line quickly. To do so, East Holmes Schools has gone to a bag lunch that allows students to get their lunch in premade servings. Meeting the national nutrition guidelines will remain a focal point for the district, but with more students eating school lunches, there may be times when they prepare for a certain number of lunches and more students will eat than they had anticipated.

Biltz said the staffs may end up scavenging the freezer for additional food, meaning a slight alteration to the menu during lunch time.

“We just ask for some understanding to whatever situation might crop up,” Biltz said. “It’s difficult for a staff to know an exact number of students eating on any given day. You prepare the best you can, but plans can change.”

While the lunch bag menu will be set, students will continue to have the peanut-butter sandwich meal as a lunch option.

According to Biltz, the newly implemented program is retroactive, so any funds used to purchase meals since the beginning of the year will be credited back to each child’s account. Any funds remaining in a child’s account will be available to purchase extras or held until they will be needed beginning Jan. 1 or possibly sooner, should the program run short of funds and end.

That will mean credit savings for each individual student, but for families with multiple children in school, the retroactive savings combined with the savings created with the free breakfast and lunch programs could mean significant savings.

“Families with several children could be looking at savings close to $200 a month, which is significant,” Biltz said.

Families are encouraged to fill out the free and reduced applications, which can be sent in to each child’s secretary.

Biltz said that is critical because they need to be processed so each school has the correct meal status beginning Jan. 1.

“Those applications also help to determine extra Title funding for the district, so if you believe you qualify, please send it in,” Beun said.

Those sending in applications can look for responses to come in the mail over the next few weeks.

Anyone with questions can email Biltz at ​melissa.biltz@eastholmes.org​ or call or text 330-231-6175.


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