A short time ago, Penny Hoops, Food Service Director for ROCORI and Albany Schools, learned that the ROCORI School District was eligible to participate in a summer program to provide meals to students in the community. The program has unfolded for us very quickly, but I would like to take some time to share information about the program!
The ROCORI School District is offering a free summer breakfast and lunch meal program to all children 18 and under this summer.
The program will operate through most of the summer. It will begin operations on Monday, June 5th, and will continue to run until August 25th. The District is closed from July 3rd through the 7th so the program would not operate at that time either.
Meals will be served in the program from Monday through Friday. Breakfast will be offered from 8:30 am until 9:15 am. Lunch will be served from 11:45 am until 12:30 pm.
The location for our operations will be the ROCORI High School Commons. We are asking guests and visitors to the program to please use door 10 or 11 on the north end of the High School to access the food program.
The meal program is supported under guidelines from the federal government but is encouraged by the Minnesota Department of Education. The current Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius, is a very strong advocate of the program.
The idea behind the program is to ensure that children across the state of Minnesota continue to receive quality meals and nutrition during the summer. Many children rely on school lunch and breakfast programs during the school year so the state and federal governments have worked to ensure that access to meals continues when school is out.
The program, much like the regular school year meals, has a strong base in the commodities programs. The guidelines are very similar to those applied to school lunch programs.
Schools and communities, initially, become eligible based on poverty levels as measured through students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Concentrations of students or residents who are in federal poverty levels can also qualify a school or site for the program.
In the case of ROCORI, the Alternative Learning Center (ALC), was the eligible site based on program guidelines. Because the site is eligible, the program is made available in the school district and community. The program must be operated in the food service area of the site—thus our program must be conducted from the Commons in the High School.
When Penny learned that the district was eligible, we first attempted to structure the program at Cold Spring Elementary to coincide with the summer school program and the KIDSTOP program conducted at the site. We anticipated that these would be the core students in the program so we initiated conversations about what the program would look like at CSE.
As Penny learned more information, it became apparent that we would not be able to base at CSE. The state officials indicated we had to operate from the food service site of the school entity that qualified for service. With that expectation, the program had to shift to the secondary site.
Even earlier, we had been engaged in conversations with former CSE Principal Jerry Sparby about connecting with a program in St. Cloud. Based on the program there, a portion of Rockville would have been eligible to receive free meals in the summer.
The challenge, under this program, was that the food would be prepared at SCSU and delivered out to the community. Beyond the delivery issue, there needed to be a designated gathering/service site—within the “eligibility area”. This was proving difficult to identify. While we were researching this, Penny found that ROCORI was eligible through the ALC and our plans shifted.
Penny has done quite a bit of work, since we learned about the eligibility, to learn what is happening in other schools which have operated the program. She has connected with food service providers in Princeton and Foley, in particular, to learn more.
Princeton has been eligible for a little while and has quite a bit of experience with the program. They are offering about 900 meals a week in the program. We are hoping to get to about 200 students per day.
We are expecting students enrolled in KIDSTOP to be primary and consistent participants through the summer. The program means that parents do not need to pack lunches for KIDSTOP students nor do they need to pay for lunches during the summer.
In addition, we are thinking that students in our summer school programs would be likely participants in the program. We have shared the opportunity within our activities program and students attending the summer activity camps and sessions would be potential participants as well.
As the program explains, however, a student does not need to be in any program to have breakfast or lunch. They simply need to be at the school during the designated times to enjoy the meals.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do we have to financially qualify to receive the free meals? No, any person 18 and under can receive the free meals all summer long.
Do we have to pre-register for our meals? No, you do not have to register, you can just show up during the meal times and you will be served.
Who is paying for these meals? This program is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture; no local school district money will be used to operate this program.
Do children need to be accompanied by an adult during the meal times? No, children can come on their own to this program, however adults are welcome and can purchase a breakfast meal for $2.25 or lunch meal for $3.85.
What type of food will be served? Meals served will be similar to the school year breakfast and lunch program meals. All meals will meet the federal government’s nutrition guidelines and will include a broad range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Is this program open to groups of students? Yes, local daycares, church groups or other youth groups are welcome to bring their children to this program. If you have a large group that you plan to bring, it would be helpful if you called us at 320-685-4921, so we can make sure we have enough meals prepared.
Although we have not had a great deal of time to pull the program together, we are excited to be able to bring this meal program to the ROCORI School District. Having been determined eligible, we will be able to operate the program for at least the next five years! We do not have experience with the program, but we are looking forward to the opportunity, to see how participation plays out, and to learn as the program unfolds!
If you have questions, please connect with us at 685-4921!