school lunch aperture

A cheeseburger, corn, pears and milk were served free of charge at Roosevelt Elementary School on Monday. (Colton Kemp/southernminn.com)

Summertime should be about taking a break from the stresses of school and enjoying the warm sunlight. For many working-class families, summer break also can limit their access to food, supervision and transportation.

Throughout the summer, Faribault Public Schools offers free breakfast and lunch to minors. Anyone in need of a fresh, healthy meal can stop by Roosevelt Elementary School or Faribault Middle School.

Food insecurity is a concern for many families of Faribault, and Brenda Boehm, food services director for Faribault Public Schools, says the school district is doing what it can to help.

lunch lady

Becky Grems serves a lunch Monday at Rosevelt Elementary School, which is one of two school sites serving free meals this summer. (Colton Kemp/southernminn.com)

“We know food insecurity is a really big issue in Faribault,” she said. “To be able to offer this four days a week for basically the entire summer is pretty incredible.”

During the school year over half the students attending Faribault Public School System receive lunch, breakfast or both at little to no cost since their household income is near or below the national poverty line.

During the summer these meals become available free to every child, with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But for parents who work full time or don’t have transportation, getting their kids to a school to access the free meals can be an obstacle.

Over the past few years, the USDA issued waivers to allow for, “non-congregate meals,” which meant they were to be served like a drive-up, in an effort to limit person-to-person contact during the pandemic.

That meant friends and neighbors of families in need could pick up food from schools. The school district also worked with local nonprofits to develop a delivery system. The Community Action Center, for example, would pick up and delivery dozens of meals to families across Faribault.

The waivers expired this year, requiring meals again to be only be served to children who can come to school sites.

“Here in Faribault, not only is food insecurity a really, really high issue, but so is transportation,” Boehm said. “If it were up to me, I would still hand out the meals. But it’s not up to me.”

This sentiment is not exclusive to the Faribault Public Schools staff, according to Scott Gerdes, the district’s director of finance and operations.

At Roosevelt Elementary, participation has dropped nearly 50% compared to last summer.

food schedule

There’s a variety of food on the menu throughout the summer. (Colton Kemp/southernminn.com)

“I think that’s a common perception that everybody would still like to be working in the same roles as last year, because we have a lot of people that have issues getting physically getting here,” he said. “I know some of my colleagues in the Big Nine (Conference) just had a meeting last week about this. We were really hoping the government would step up at the last minute and make these changes.”

As disappointed Gerdes and Boehm are, they continue to ensure the kids who can come to the schools have a well-rounded and nutritious meal. The menu is has a variety of foods that meet the nutritional guidelines set by the USDA.

“Unfortunately, all we can do is reach out to our congressmen and congresswomen and tell them how important it is to have universal free meals,” Boehm said.

Reach Reporter Colton Kemp at 507-333-3129. © Copyright 2022 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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