School Lunches

Hermiston School District food services manager David Busch helps to load boxes of bagged lunches into a school bus for distribution in the district on the morning of April 23, 2020.

Eastern Oregon students could get more free meals after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was extending its funding options for districts in light of COVID-19.

Umatilla and Morrow county school districts leveraged USDA funding to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students during the spring when school was first shut down, and to offer their usual free summer meal programs.

In the Hermiston School District, the district had previously planned to resume charging students for breakfast and lunch when the school year begins on Sept. 8, but Superintendent Tricia Mooney said on Sept. 1 that the USDA announcement might mean that students who do not usually qualify for free or reduced lunch can continue receiving free meals.

“We did see that, and we are awaiting further instruction from (Oregon Department of Education) on that, but we do anticipate moving in the direction of offering more free meals,” she said.

She said the district would still likely hand out meals at fewer bus stops than they have been, due to staffing constraints, but parents should be on the lookout for announcements about the district’s new plans in the upcoming days.

Hunger-Free Oregon, a nonprofit, issued a statement commending the USDA’s decision, which extends funding flexibilities to school districts through the end of 2020.

According to the organization, the number of children in Oregon experiencing “food insecurity” has increased since the pandemic began from one in eight children to one in three.

“As school buildings closed and families lost income in March, school meals became more important than ever — a real lifeline that is essential to stay healthy and engaged in learning, and supports communities in crisis,” Annie Kirschner of Hunger-Free Oregon said in a statement.

“If these waivers hadn’t been extended, daily meals would have been unaffordable for many families,” Kirschner said. “Kids would have been without food, which is unacceptable. We’re glad that the federal government listened to the concerns of parents and educators.”

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