The Crusader Newspaper Group

Back to school means changes in the breakfast and lunch programs

IN THE CAFETERIA serving line at O’Bannon Elementary School is Cindy Long, USDA Food & Nutrition Service Administrator, (l-r), Lynn Strle, Assistant Director School City of Hammond FNS, Alan Shannon, USDA FNS Public Affairs Director, and Vista Fletcher, USDA Midwest Regional Office Administrator

A sign of the nation’s rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt as students across the nation return to school this fall.

O’Bannon Elementary School in Hammond welcomed officials from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and Indiana Dept. of Education responsible for the USDA’s school meals programs for a tour Wednesday, August 31.

Already this fall, many families have seen their students bring home applications to receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch meals at school.

That is part of the reason why Cindy Long, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services Administrator was in Hammond Wednesday and Chicago the day before, talking to school principals about the change in requirements to participate in the school meals programs. The participation process changed during COVID, when the USDA allowed all students to eat free, no matter their household size and household income.

All children don’t eat free for the 2022-23 school year. It’s back to participation depending on household size and income.

“We’re here to help get the word out. For the last 2 years every school in the whole country was able to serve all their meals without any costs. This is ending for most schools and they’ll have to go back to the traditional way,” Long said. “Kids will have to turn in an application to get a free or reduced price meal. It’s important for the families to get those forms turned in so kids can get the meals they need.”

Some schools use a program called the “Community Eligibility Provision” that helps them serve all meals free. Long said that is based on the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participation.

Christine Clarahan, Director of Food & Nutrition for the School City of Hammond said Hammond has a district-wide CEP. “Due to our high free and reduced numbers – we have applied to the USDA to participate in a 4-year cycle of CEP where we are able to serve all our students breakfast and lunch at no cost. So while the rest of the country is going back to the Free, Reduced, Paid model – School City of Hammond students will continue to be served meals at no cost.”

O’BANNON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL food service workers are superheroes, turning their aprons into capes.
O’BANNON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL food service workers are
superheroes, turning their aprons into capes.

This is the second time this year a Hammond school received a visit from its food program sponsors. Officials from the USDA and IDOE visited SCH for National School Breakfast Week in March 2022. In May, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School was honored as the 2021-22 Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Program School of the Year in Indiana by the IDOE.

“We are always thrilled when our state and federal partners decide to visit the School City of Hammond,” said Clarahan. “Our department works really hard to provide a positive environment and delicious, healthy options for all our students.”

“It’s also good to be here to lift up these great programs,” Long said, calling them school meal superheroes.

Clarahan agreed. “The cafeteria team at O’Bannon is the embodiment of an ‘everyday’ superhero. The love, care, and attention that each of the women put into meal service shows their commitment to ensuring that the Cardinals have the nourishment they need to be focused and attentive students throughout the school day. We like to say that an apron is a cape on backwards – and on Wednesday we all took part in the O’Bannon building-wide Superhero Day.”

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