Free summer meals continue to be available to kids via schools and other sites across Minnesota — more than 2,500 sites altogether — and some are taking service to new heights.
Stacy Koppen, nutrition services director for St. Paul Public Schools, said her district provided about 6,000 breakfasts and lunches on a busy day before the pandemic.
"Now we're serving over 200,000 meals a week," she said Friday, citing federal COVID-era rule changes for the jump.
Keys to the increase are letting St. Paul parents pick up a week's worth of meals and allowing school buses to deliver meals to other families. More than 11,000 students are enrolled in the home delivery program, Koppen said.
"I think these are definitely students who would have been missed if we didn't have this flexibility," she said.
"These are youth who would have been at risk of food insecurity because of things like the lack of transportation."
The big question is whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow the pickups and bus delivery to remain in place next summer, Koppen said.
The Biden administration previously announced that it was extending the summer program to allow districts nationwide to continue offering free meals to students during the 2021-22 school year.
On Friday, the state Department of Education said the summer meals program ensures students will return to school ready to learn. It, too, touted curbside, grab-and-go and bus stop options.
"Every child in Minnesota deserves to have access to nutritious meals every day," Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a release tipping families to a "Free Meals for Kids" app showing where free meals can be accessed.
The app is available via the Apple and Google app stores and at the Hunger Impact Partners website, hungerimpactpartners.org.
The USDA also has a free meal locator on its website.
For information by phone, call the Minnesota Food HelpLine at 1-888-711-1151 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109