Many families and their children come to depend on the free meals as a means of daily sustenance. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) Hunger In America School Lunches
Many families and their children come to depend on the free meals as a means of daily sustenance. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The funds will help build and retain a strong nutrition workforce and provide additional opportunities for program enhancement

There’s good news for school nutrition programs in Virginia. On May 17, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service Mid-Atlantic Region announced a more than $982,00 grant awarded to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The VDOE administers the National School Lunch Program in the commonwealth. 

The VDOE was one of only eight agencies across the country that received funds from the USDA Team Nutrition Training Grants. Other states included Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington, totaling approximately $7.1 million altogether with Virginia’s funds. 

The grant and corresponding sub-grants in Virginia will go toward:

  • Building and retaining a strong school nutrition workforce 
  • Implementing transitional meal pattern standards
  • Supporting menu changes to meet national school meal patterns
  • Offering freshly prepared, local, and culturally inclusive school meals

On the retaining front, VDOE Director of School Nutrition Programs Dr. Sandra Curwood said in a USDA press release that approximately 150 school nutrition directors and over 2,000 frontline cafeteria managers would benefit from the funds through a school meals training program. Democratic District 4 US Rep. A. Donald McEachin’s office also noted in an email that the sub-grant funds would provide $175 to cafeteria managers who completed the training program within a six-month period.

“Many children in our district and throughout the commonwealth rely on school lunches for a healthy, nutritious meal,” McEachin said in a statement. “As families struggle with escalating food prices, it is even more important that school lunches meet children’s needs. No student should ever go hungry, especially while trying to receive an education. This grant from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will help ensure Virginian school food authorities, especially in more rural areas, have the necessary training and knowledge to plan nutritious lunches and support students in the commonwealth.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) also made a statement about the USDA funds.

“One in nine children in Virginia is struggling with food insecurity,” Kaine said. “That’s a powerful reminder of why it’s essential that every child in Virginia has access to nutritious meals at school. I’m glad this funding is headed to our communities to help foster the workforce we need to deliver on that promise, and will continue to do all that I can to fight childhood hunger through my work in the US Senate.”

This is different from an extension of the universal free school meals program, which began near the start of the pandemic. Dogwood is still closely following the possibility of an extension, championed by Democrats like US Congressional Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) and US Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

At a recent media availability, Warner said: “Frankly, getting access to that healthy food for a lot of Virginia families, particularly during the summer is really important. That is running out as of June 30.”

Warner sponsored legislation to keep school meals free and easily accessible for students not only through the summer, but also through next school year and the following summer. 

“That is something that will hit a lot of families as early as July if we don’t extend that,” Warner said. 

With summer quickly approaching, there are currently a multitude of free meal options available to children throughout the country. Simply text FOOD or COMIDA to 304-304 to find a site near you, courtesy of the Free Meals Finder through No Kid Hungry.