Avondale Schools food service workers operate the  curbside pick-up for breakfast and lunch.

Avondale Schools food service workers operate the curbside pick-up for breakfast and lunch.

Photo provided by Avondale Schools

USDA extends summer meal program

School districts to supply free meals to students through Dec. 31

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2020

  Rochester Community Schools food service volunteers  get ready to pass out food over the summer.

Rochester Community Schools food service volunteers get ready to pass out food over the summer.

Photo provided by Rochester Community Schools


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/TROY — Most local school districts have implemented virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but while buildings are closed, officials are making sure children still have access to nutritious food.

For the 2019-2020 school year, Michigan had nearly 750,000 children eligible for the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, which allows children to get free or reduced-price meals at school due to low family income. This school year, officials expect the number of eligible children to increase due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture — which oversees national school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding and adult care food programs — has granted waivers to school districts, allowing more flexibility in providing children meals that would have otherwise been served at school. The waivers temporarily allow districts to serve meals to children in all geographical areas, free of charge, and give parents and guardians the ability to pick up multiple meals for their children via a grab-and-go service.

Over the past six months, the USDA’s partners across the country have set up nearly 80,000 sites, handing out meals at a higher rate than the traditional school year program.

On Aug. 31, the same day the waivers were set to expire, USDA extended the flexible free school meals program, allowing operators to continue serving free meals to all children under the age of 18 and special education students under the age of 26 through Dec. 31, or until funding is no longer available.

Rochester Community Schools
In Rochester Community Schools, approximately 13% of families qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school.

“March through June, we served over 200,000 meals,” said Tracy Hizer, the district’s director for dining services.
Thanks to the waivers, RCS is able to temporarily provide free breakfast and lunch via curbside pick-up to all children under 18 years of age and special education students under the age of 26 — regardless of if they attend RCS. Through Dec. 31, or until USDA funding is no longer available, RCS will offer curbside pick-up for breakfast and lunch, which are distributed in two- and three-day increments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., at different locations:

• McGregor, Long Meadow, Hamlin, and Rochester High families can pick up food at Rochester High School in the bus loop off of Walton Boulevard.

• Meadow Brook, University Hills, Brewster and West Middle School families can get their food from West Middle School via the loop off of Old Perch Road.

• North Hill, Baldwin, Hugger, Hart and Stoney Creek families can head to Hart Middle School’s parent drop off loop near door number five for food.

• Delta Kelly, Musson, Van Hoosen and Adams families can pick up food from the back parking lot loop at Musson Elementary.

• Brooklands, Hampton, Reuther and special education families can grab food from Hampton Elementary by entering the bus loop at the back of the building.

“Our goal is to make sure all kids in the area have healthy meals and do not go hungry,” Hizer said.

Families who wish to take advantage of the free meals are asked to pre-register at  https://forms.gle/YuwHFFGedx3dXbah7.

“Right now, we have 1,065 students enrolled, and it’s starting to grow as more people read about the program,” Hizer said.

RCS Executive Director of Strategic Communications Lori Grein said the district appreciates the hard work of Hizer and the Chartwells Food Service team.

“Her team was able to quickly pivot and meet the additional needs from the community after the waiver was received, and we are really proud and honored to have them as our partners to help feed our children,” Grein explained.

The district, Grein noted, also participates in the Blessings In a Backpack program, which typically provides six simple meals for students in need each weekend during the school year.

“When and if the USDA service is done, we still offer the Blessings in a Backpack, which is a coordinated community effort to help provide our children with meals,” Grein said.

Blessings in a Backpack food is traditionally provided by Meijer at wholesale costs, and volunteers gather each Wednesday to pack bags of food at the First Congregational Church, 1315 N. Pine St. in Rochester. The bags are then delivered to local schools and placed in students’ backpacks before school is dismissed for the weekend. The program delivers to 17 schools in the Rochester Community Schools district and covers the students — from those in preschool to the adult transitional program — who are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. It costs $100 to feed a student for a year, according to officials.

For more information about Blessings in a Backpack, call (248) 221-7749. For more information about the food service program, call (248) 726-4618 from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. or email focfoodser vice@rochester.k12.mi.us.

Avondale Schools
At Avondale Schools — which includes parts of Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Township, Rochester Hills and Troy — just under 50% of the district qualifies for the free and reduced school lunch program.

District Food Service Director Evan Manning said Avondale Schools distributed between 60,000 to 70,000 meals over the summer and has already processed 400 applications for free and reduced meals this fall.

Before the Aug. 31 waiver was granted, Manning said, he was training his staff on how to ring up meals curbside for families that would have been required to pay.

“We had to completely change our plan of what we were doing. Before, we were going to have to ring up kids as their parents drove through the bus loop, so we had to order laptops so we had the ability to pull up their lunch account and we would have to ring those in based on free, reduced or paid status. Whereas now that the USDA has issued that waiver, we don’t have to worry about that. We can just serve every student for free. So it helps us out a lot, logistically,” he said.

Thanks to the waiver, Avondale Schools is able to provide free breakfast and lunch for all children under 18 years of age and for people with special needs who are up to 26 years of age. Through Dec. 31, or until USDA funding is no longer available, Avondale Schools will offer curbside pick-up for breakfast and lunch, which are distributed in two- and five-day increments on Mondays and Wednesdays in the bus loops at Deerfield Elementary, 3600 Crooks Road in Rochester Hills; Avondale Middle School, 145 W. Auburn Road in Rochester Hills; and Avondale High School, 2800 Waukegan St. in Auburn Hills.

Children do not need to be present, and they do not need to be enrolled in an Avondale School District school to participate.

“They just pull up into the bus loop, and we come out and give them their breakfasts and lunches all in one bag, for a total of seven days of food to get them through each week,” Manning explained.

During the first two weeks of the 2020-21 school year, Manning said, the district handed out around 7,000 meals a week.

“During a regular school year, we would serve a lot more because we would have the students in the cafeteria in school … so it’s gone down a bit, but we’re here for the families in need,” he said. “I’m hoping to get that 7,000 meals up to 10,000 or 11,000 meals a week. That’s where we were at before we ended the summer.”

For more information, call Avondale Schools at (248) 537-6290 or visit www.avondale.k12.mi.us.

Oakland County has also established a help hotline to assist residents who may be in need of food or housing assistance at this time. The number there is (248) 858-1000, staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.