HONOLULU — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent announcement that funding for free student meals at public schools will continue through June 30, 2021, comes at a time when parents and students continue to adjust to an unusual school year.
First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige is one of 18 first ladies and first gentlemen who sent a letter to the USDA and congressional leadership urging the continuation of fully-funded child-nutrition programs throughout the entire 2020-21 school year. The bipartisan effort helped pave the way for the extension of the free-student-meals program.
“This program supports our effort to serve nutritious meals to public-school children who may not have access to balanced meals outside of school,” said Amano-Ige.
”Many families have lost jobs or experienced a decrease an employment, so school meals are more important now than ever,” she said.
“The grab-and-go, free-meals program helps me tremendously because it is nearly impossible to cook for and then feed my youngest son during his lunch hour, since I often sit with him during his online learning,” said Kelly Sugano, a mom of two. Sugano owns a wedding-planning business that has been severely impacted by the pandemic. She picks up free meals for her children almost every day to save both time and money.
Bernina Valdez, a working mom from Wahiawa, O‘ahu, picks up meals daily from Wahiawa Elementary School. “The drive-up line moves quickly because there are about four to five school staff members helping, and they are always wearing their masks, so that makes me feel even better,” said Valdez.
“I’m very appreciative of the service being provided free of charge, and for the convenience it provides me, as I am constantly trying to juggle my work schedule with my kids’ schedules,” she added.
The USDA’s funding allows the state Department of Education to provide free student meals through the grab-and-go program at participating public schools statewide. In October 2020 alone, the program served over 700,000 free breakfasts and lunches to all students, regardless if they attend public or private schools.