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  • Last modified 4 days ago (May 21, 2020)

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COVID-19
leads to spike
in school meals

Staff writer

When Marion County school districts began providing meals to children between 1 and 18 years old after schools closed late in March, few could anticipate the effects.

Centre superintendent Susan Beeson still is unsure how much the change increased annual cost, but she said the number of meals served daily, which includes breakfast and lunch, has risen.

Centre, Peabody, and Goessel ended their programs last week, and Hillsboro’s ended Tuesday. Marion students will receive meals through June 30.

Stopping the service raises concerns about children in need of meals until a new school year starts, Beeson said.

“One of my concerns is for the well-being of our children during this summer break related to any reduced employment, with stay-at-home conditions,” she said. “Those factors are really concerning.”

Benefits to help families through the summer are U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and any added assistance to area food banks, Beeson said.

Centre was planning to deliver 800 to 900 meals a week after schools closed but ended up supplying around 1,200, Beeson said.

“I think it reduced the stress on families trying to work with their children at home,” she said. “I think it certainly reduced people’s concerns about providing extra meals.”

Peabody-Burns may have experienced the most drastic cost increase, serving 14% more meals for the entire school year because of how many meals were provided after the district closed.

Marion is delivering 500 meals a day but hasn’t seen a large increase in expenses so far, superintendent Aaron Homburg said.

Goessel started serving five meals a week to 135 students and that number has not fluctuated by more than 15 students most weeks. Goessel families emailed in how many meals they needed each week, superintendent John Fast said.

“It was a huge advantage to have a consistent number each week,” he said. “It didn’t fluctuate up or down dramatically for us and held quite steady.”

Having that advantage is a necessity because Goessel, unlike most districts, prepares all meals itself.

“We had to order all those paper bags and get them stuffed in a relatively short amount of time,” he said. “That was a bit different in the fact that we had to all this ourselves and not with a contracted agency. It was a challenge for us initially.”

Hillsboro actually served 20% fewer meals once school shut down, superintendent Max Hienrichs said. The district provided 225 between breakfast and lunch for pick-up from the school, and took 75 to families in Durham and Lehigh.

Despite the decrease, there was little financial difference, Heinrichs said.

“We’re either a couple hundred dollars ahead or behind,” he said.

Peabody-Burns went over budget on meal spending because of its spike in meals served.

However, the school’s overall budget is not in danger of going over, superintendent Ron Traxson said.

Any added expenses for Centre or Goessel were covered through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Peabody-Burns renewed its agreement with Opaa food service last week.

As a longtime customer the district is grandfathered in, Traxson said.

“It’s pretty difficult for a small district to get in,” he said. “It’s not as profitable for them.”

Working with Opaa increased Peabody-Burns students’ options from one choice with each meal to three.

Marion and Centre use Opaa, too, but Hillsboro is in need of a new supplier.

Its previous supplier, Thrive Nutrition, officially dissolved in February but supplied meals until the end of Hillsboro’s academic year.

Outsourcing means not having to worry about buying food or hiring employees to make it, Traxson said.

“For a smaller district it takes a lot of hassle out of it,” he said.

The districts have staff providing assistance where needed now, but that is not a typical occurrence.

One added factor for Centre was delivering to six individual communities within its district, Beeson said.

“There was a lot of stress related to that,” she said. “However, I know the people working in our Opaa program and our staff. They just volunteered to do what it took to make it happen.”

Last modified May 21, 2020

 

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