UPDATE: The deadline to apply for free/reduced meal benefits has been extended through the last day of school on December 17.
Free meals will be given to children 18 and under in need through the end of the year, yet Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is still encouraging anyone who needs support to apply for free and reduced meals by the December 17 deadline.
“Every child in all of our schools will eat at no charge through Dec. 17,” said Lora Gilbert, the senior director of OCPS Food and Nutrition Services. “This is definitely one of the best things we can do for the families of Orange County.”
While the extension from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not require students in need to fill out a free and reduced meal program application in order to receive free meals, OCPS still wants families to apply for the program online to receive the other benefits as well as to ensure that their student can get free or reduced meals even after the USDA’s extension ends.
Program eligibility is based on the household income. Once a student is deemed eligible, along with the free meals that even virtual students are able to pick up, kids will be able to get vouchers for reduced or free SAT or ACT tests and college application fees waived; more perks are also available that last for an entire year. Families who are eligible for the program can also receive discounts to internet services, utilities, or summer camps, according to an OCPS Food and Nutrition Services press release.
Children, or parents with their child’s name, can pick up these free meals curbside at OCPS elementary or K-8 schools at approximately 3:30-5 p.m., 4:30-6 p.m. at middle schools, and 2:50 -4:20 p.m. for high schools every Monday.
The meals include five frozen breakfasts and five frozen lunches for the week per child, and schools that are eligible to serve dinner – with over 50% of their population qualifying for free or reduced lunches – will also get five frozen dinners to reheat throughout the week, Gilbert said.
“Since we are funded by the USDA, we have to have the nutrition exactly right,” Gilbert said. “We work a lot on our menus to make sure that our meals are kid-friendly but also healthy.”
Orange County has 68% of the district population’s families that are eligible for the free or reduced meal program based on their income, according to the press release.
“The pandemic has impacted the ability for us to feed our students,” Gilbert said. “We were serving anywhere between 65,000 and 70,000 students each Monday during the summer, but right now, we aren’t serving as many as we usually do because there are only a certain number of kids going to school face-to-face, so we are really trying to promote our curbside meals.”
For each child who receives a free meal, the school receives reimbursement by the USDA. The higher the percentage of students who apply for the free and reduced meal program, the more grant money the district can apply for to get help to expand food availability, funding, and resources, Gilbert said.
“School meal programs face unprecedented challenges and need the assurance that these critical waivers will be available through the entire school year,” said Reggie Ross, the president of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), in this statement. “SNA will continue working with USDA and Congress to further extend these waivers to support school meal programs and the students we serve.”
The free and reduced meal program application must be filled out online at www.MySchoolApps.com every year and takes between 15-30 minutes to complete.
Families with groups of children or community programs are asked to call the Food and Nutrition Service program at (407) 858-3110, ext. 3295180, to see if they are eligible to get their free meals delivered.
Photos Courtesy of OCPS