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)

School nutrition waivers are set to expire on June 30, unless legislation passes to grant an extension.

Have you ever fed a child? From repetitive food choices to rising grocery costs, most parents and grandparents might tell you it’s not the easiest task. During the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a child with a filling, nutritious meal could’ve become a lot harder — but thanks to some fast-acting legislators, opportunities opened for some of the youngest members of society.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, 2020, allowed the Secretary of Agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue nationwide waivers, making accessing meals easier for children across the country. Some waivers allowed schools to deliver meals on bus routes, send a weeks’ worth of meals home with a family, and more.

The nutrition waivers also allowed for universal free meals for millions of students during the 2020 and 2021 school years. The numbers for the 2022 school year are not yet available through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. 

While the nutrition waivers served their purpose during the height of the pandemic, they are scheduled to expire on June 30. Despite the impending date, many school divisions in Virginia are pressing forward and offering free meals to students while school isn’t in session. 

Meals Across Virginia

To combat child hunger, many school divisions across the commonwealth will offer free meals to children this summer. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but showcases some of the creative ways Virginia divisions are helping students beyond the school year. To find out more about local opportunities, families can text FOOD or COMIDA to No Kid Hungry’s summer meals texting hotline at 304-304.

Prince William County Public Schools will provide free meals for all children this summer. Designated elementary, middle, and high school sites will serve breakfast and lunch on select days. Some meal programs in the district begin the weeks of June 21, June 27, and August 8, while most start on July 11.

Meals at the Prince William County sites will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis Monday through Friday with limited scheduling exceptions. To see a full list of dates, times, and locations, click here

Fairfax County Public Schools announced a no-cost summer meal program for children enrolled in summer school. In addition, free Summer Meal Kits will be available for all district students regardless of age, as well as for other county children age 18 and under. 

The Fairfax County meal kits will contain seven days’ worth of breakfast and lunch items and will be available on Tuesdays at designated sites beginning on June 14 and June 21 and ending on August 9 with double meal kits given on the final day. To see a full list of dates, times, and locations, click here

Martinsville City Public Schools is participating in the Summer Food Service Program. The district will provide meals to all children without charge at various locations, dates, and times throughout the summer.

Martinsville’s neighboring Henry County Public Schools will also participate in the Summer Food Service Program. Meals will be provided at closed, enrolled sites — like daycares and camps, for example — as well as at open sites like school buildings, mobile sites, Vacation Bible School events, libraries, and more. All children ages one through 18 and district students up to age 22 can eat free of charge. Additionally, adults who would like to eat with their children may purchase a $1.50 breakfast or $3 lunch. 

What Are Our Representatives Doing To Help? 

With merely a matter of weeks left until the child nutrition waivers expire on June 30, Democrats are still pushing toward a solution.

US Congressional Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) introduced legislation in February — the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act — which would extend the expiration date for the child nutrition waivers for an additional year.

In April, US Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — both Virginia Democrats — joined a bipartisan group in introducing the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act. If passed, the act would extend flexibility in school meal programs through September 2023, as well as require a transition plan from states to return to normal school meal operations starting October 1, 2023.

“During COVID, we made it much easier for families to get those lunches,” Warner said in a recent media availability. “And frankly, getting access to that healthy food for a lot of Virginia families, particularly during the summer, is really important.”

The conversation about food insecurity doesn’t start and end with school meals. Since the pandemic began, Warner and Kaine successfully called for the approval of Virginia’s Request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program so that children could access healthy food at home, wrote a letter to the USDA about college students facing food insecurity, and pushed the USDA to make food distribution policies more flexible for Virginia families.