By MADDY VITALE
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in March, the Ocean City school district has distributed thousands of free meals to the students in the district.
And thanks to federal funding, the meals, which in the past were only offered to children who met the criteria for free and reduced-cost meals, both breakfasts and lunches have been and continue to be provided to all students who wish to take them.
School Business Administrator Tim Kelley emphasized in a report to the Board of Education on Zoom Wednesday night that the meal program is working well.
He stressed that it is vital that students are fed and ready to learn. The program helps with that for all families in a difficult time amid the pandemic.
The federal program offering the food to all children is available through June.
“As we continue the year, we have essentially free meals available in the district for all students,” Kelley explained. “We continue to give free meals out on Wednesdays at the high school. From September through November, we have already given out 15,000 meals.”
Kelley commended the hard work of the school staff to meet the needs of the children.
“Everyone — from food service to custodians to teachers — everyone has really stepped up to help out,” he noted.
For students in the Virtual Academy, parents and guardians pick up packages filled with cereals, fruits, vegetables, snacks, sandwiches and other foods once a week.
And for the days hybrid learning students are not in school, meals are available for them to be picked up as well. All meals are picked up at the high school.
Students in the hybrid learning program receive the meals at the Primary and Intermediate schools in the cafeteria, where, due to the limited number of students, they are able to social distance, Kelley said.
However, with a recent shortened day in the high school, the lunch period was eliminated. Students may take home their meals at the end of the day, which is 12:30 p.m.
“We have eliminated the lunch period in the high school, but I do want to make it a point that meals are available to the students every day, and students may pick them up at the end of the day,” Kelley noted in an interview Friday.
He continued, “The way it works now is on a daily basis. Food service staff has bag meals and individual meals that students may take as they access a mass production line when they are exiting the building.”
Kelley said the district is urging parents and guardians of students who meet the criteria for the reduced-cost breakfast and lunch program to apply. The annual application is important to ensure that after the pandemic, when free meals do not apply to all students, the ones who need them are able to continue to get them.
“We noticed a slight decrease and because of that we encourage families to continue to re-apply for the regular program,” Kelley said. “Once this current federal program ends, if the student is not eligible he or she might not have the free lunch status under the normal operating federal free and reduced meal program.”
For more information, visit the Ocean City School district website at www.oceancityschools.org.