Free school lunch helped many families during the pandemic. But this year, as students head back into the classroom, they face another big change. Federal pandemic-era waivers that made free school lunch a reality for all students during the past two years have expired.
In 2020, Congress authorized waivers that allowed schools to provide free school meals to every student, regardless of income. However, the USDA did not extend the meal waivers for the 2022-2023 school year. Now, the Sarasota County School District is encouraging all eligible families to complete and submit their Free and Reduced-Priced Meal Benefit Application to ensure that students have access to lunch.
Benefits begins the day the application is processed by the Sarasota County Schools' Food and Nutrition Services team. If the application is approved, meal benefits continue throughout the school year, the summer, and the first 30 days of the next school year.
All Faiths Food Bank is another resource that can help families facing food insecurity, and they're prepared for an increase in need, too—especially in the face of rising prices due to inflation. According to data from the Washington Post, approximately 1 in 6 households said they didn't have enough food for every member of the household in 2020. In about 7 percent of households, surveys found that both children and adults were going hungry, and in a survey of teenagers conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year, a quarter of the respondents reported food insecurity.
“We are expecting school pantries and the demand for our Backpack Program to increase,” says food bank CEO Sandra Frank. “Our organization provides assistance with benefits. We assess families who qualify for free and reduced lunch and adding it on top of of our assistance with benefits program.”
If families are unsure whether they need to apply for Free and Reduced-Priced Meal benefits year, they should contact Sarasota County Schools' Food and Nutrition Services' main office for assistance at (941) 486-2199. For additional assistance and food distribution locations, visit All Faiths Food Bank's website.