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story.lead_photo.caption Employees of JC Schools work to prep and put out a meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently extended a waiver that allows qualifying schools, including four in Mid-Missouri, to provide free meals to students. Photo by Submitted photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently extended a waiver that allows qualifying schools, including four in Mid-Missouri, to provide free meals to students.

The federal waiver from the USDA that allowed the Summer Food Service Program to operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic was set to expire Aug. 31, but the USDA extended this waiver through Dec. 31 or until federal funding for free meals runs out.

The nationwide waiver will allow any child 18 and younger to receive free meals from schools and community sites operating under the Summer Food Service Program or Seamless Summer Option.

The Jefferson City School District, Cole County R-5 School District in Eugene, Osage County R-2 School District in Linn and Osage County R-1 School District in Chamois qualify for this waiver and are now offering free breakfast and lunch to all students.

The Eldon R-1 School District Food Services Director Shawndra Taylor said she has applied for the summer meal program to be able to provide free lunches but is still waiting to be approved. The district already serves free breakfast to all students through the National School Breakfast Program and serves a free snack and dinner to students in the after-school program through the Missouri Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Although school meals are free to students, a la carte items are not. Money in student accounts can remain in their accounts and will be there when the waiver expires. Students will be charged for meals again once the USDA announces federal funding has run out, which will be Dec. 31 at the latest.

Under these programs, schools may offer up to two meals (breakfast and lunch or breakfast and dinner) or one meal and one snack, per child per day, for free. This waiver also allows meals to be served outside of the typically required group setting and meal times so parents and guardians can pick up meals for their children. Schools may distribute five days' worth of meals at one time to a student to consume off-site, if necessary. The summer meals programs also allow for the distribution of weekend meals with approval from the state agency.

If your child is younger than 18 and lives in Cole County R-5 School District in Eugene, Osage County R-2 School District in Linn or Osage County R-1 School District in Chamois but does not attend school in these districts, you may request to pick up free meals by calling the school offices.

Schools that have more than 50 percent of students that qualify for free or reduced price meals can participate in the summer meal programs. However, schools with less than 50 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals may be able to participate if they are "area eligible," which means the school is located within the attendance area of a school where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals.

For example, some schools in the Jefferson City School District, such as North Elementary, have less than 50 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals. Those schools, however, are located within the attendance area of another school that does qualify, such as Lewis and Clark Middle School. About 58 percent of students in the Jefferson City School District qualified for free or reduced price meals during the 2019-20 school year, according to DESE.

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