PARMA, Ohio — Food assistance waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are set to expire at the end of this month and thousands of Northeast Ohio kids may soon not have access to free breakfast and lunch.
The waivers allow schools and food programs to distribute free meals to kids regardless of family income and receive federal reimbursement. According to the USDA, school meal funding will drop by 40% once those waivers expire, which is expected to hit schools hard next year already facing staff and supply shortages. In the meantime, the USDA continues to help fund summer feeding programs alongside states like Ohio. Three of the many participating sites are run by Parma City Schools. The meals are free to kids ages one to 18.
“Hunger doesn’t take a break during the summer,” said Bob Gorman, Food Service Supervisor for Parma City Schools.
But in Parma, the meals are served with extra healthy sides included in a fruits and vegetable mini bar.
“There’s a lot of variety and kids generally find something they want,” Gorman explained. “It’s important that kids eat their fruits and veggies. It’s important that they eat healthy all school year, especially during the summer months so that come fall they’re ready to come back to school and they’re healthy and they’re ready to learn.”
The impact on families and school staff
The program serves as a relief for moms like Lauren Evans, a mother of four children who are enrolled in Parma City Schools.
“Times are hard right now and four kids is a lot; one kid is a lot,” said Evans. “As a mom when you’re running 24/seven and there are no breaks at all even the slightest break of let’s just go there to get lunch versus having to pair and you know do all of that it’s huge just that few minutes can be huge.”
Evans says the relief is also felt financially with nationwide shortages and soaring prices.
“Things are always missing or just the quantity of having so many mouths to feed can be a lot and it adds up very quickly.”
Gorman explained that because of survival and affordability, “fruits and vegetables are [generally speaking] the first to go on family food budgets.”
Gorman admitted the cost of food impacts schools as well. He also said the process to provide the extra fruits and vegetable sides, put a lot of stress on his food and service staff. Though, the work provides work extra pay through the summer months while school is out.
Ohio’s Summer Feeding Program Sites
Out of the various participating sites, kids can grab free meals at three Parma City Schools elementary buildings, including
Ridgebrook, Thoreau Park and John Muir. The sites are open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
To find the closest summer feeding program site near you, call 1-866-3-hungry.