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School officials hoping to continue feeding program as classes begin

Unicoi County Schools employee Will Willis delivers food over the summer to students. With classes resuming online, system officials are hoping the USDA allows them to continue the feeding program. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

As school resumes around the region, there are many challenges ahead for students, staff and families.

According to Unicoi County Schools Food Service Director Maggie Fair, one struggle schools face in the time of pandemic is keeping children fed.

“School lunch programs are federally funded and the USDA rules everything we do,” Fair said. “We get all of our money from meals we serve, so when we miss school it really hurts the program and that means that children don’t get fed.”

According to Fair, regulations were lifted earlier this year to allow regional school food services to serve multiple meals all summer long due to the COVID pandemic.

“In March the USDA allowed us to go into seamless summer operations, which allowed every child from 1 year of age until 18 years old to receive food for free,” Fair said. “We were able to send buses and gave pick up points to feed everyone, even if they were homeschooled or even a preschool age child.”

Unfortunately the food service department must return to its regular breakfast and lunch program.

“When we begin school we will have to go back to our normal breakfast and lunch program,” Fair said. “We are working every avenue we can; I’ve reached out to our congressman to push for us to be able to offer our summer food program for the remainder of the year. A lot of these children will not get fed and we must make sure they are.”

According to Fair, her staff will do everything they can to make sure as many children get fed and that they have the resources they need to access warm food.

“Starting on Aug. 17, we will be feeding anyone who wants to come and pick up a meal,” Fair said. “We only ask that they call into their school to order by 10 a.m. daily so we can have a realistic count. The one issue we are facing is that they have to be enrolled in Unicoi County Schools for eligibility.

“Honestly this is a nightmare. We are doing everything we can to feed as many children as we can. One option that is available for children who got free or reduced lunches last year but did not receive food stamps, those children and their families can apply for EBT cards for $5 meals daily. That is through DHS online.”

Unicoi County Schools Food Services will provide updates at unicoischools.com under the Food Service Tab.

“We will provide updates of the food program in Unicoi County Schools as well as directions to apply for other benefits,” Fair said. “Our staff is doing everything for the children of Unicoi County and we encourage anyone else that is concerned to contact Congress and the USDA to allow us to move ahead and feed all of our children that need it.”