All students in Walker County and Jasper City schools will now be able to receive free breakfast and lunch each school day through the end of the first semester.
That was big news for families in our area when we released the information in the newspaper last week.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in a press release on Aug. 31 that all summer meal program operators across the country can continue serving free meals to all children through Dec. 31. Children will receive meals regardless of free or reduced lunch eligibility.
Free meals are being provided in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has left families across the country struggling financially, many of whom cannot afford nutritious items to prepare meals.
With five children and a cut in pay during the pandemic, I know that our home has felt a financial crunch over the last several months. I also know many others across Walker County are feeling it even harder than we might be. I’ve heard the stories from my own friends as well as team members here at the Daily Mountain Eagle. A lot of people are struggling to make ends meet, and food prices continue to rise.
The Labor Department reported in May that prices U.S. consumers paid for groceries jumped 2.6 percent in April, which was the largest one-month pop since February 1974. Meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 4.3 percent in that month. Beef prices increased 20 percent from February to June.
Some grocery item prices have fallen in recent weeks, but all are well higher than they were in January.
Food insecurity in particular is a growing problem. Nearly 30 million out of 249 million respondents told the U.S. Census Bureau they did not have enough to eat at some point in the week before July 21, which is the highest number of people reporting insufficient food since the Census started tracking that data in early May.
Even before the pandemic, I have been told by many in our local school systems that the only hot meals some children in our area receive are those that they eat at school. That is what makes the work of volunteer organizations like Backyard Blessings and Raising Arrows so important, so children do have food at home when they otherwise would not.
At this point in time, free school meals are vital for our children. If a child is hungry, that child is not going to perform well in the classroom, the athletic arena or even at home. The announcement from the USDA comes at an important time. Schools have started back, and children need proper nutrition. It will certainly help in our home, so I am thankful.
While meals are free now, it is recommended that parents still sign up for free or reduced lunches through their school systems.
Online applications for free and reduced lunch can be found on both the Jasper City Schools and Walker County Schools websites, https://www.jasper.k12.al.us/ and https://www.walkercountyschools.com/, respectively.