Meal program to run through part of the summer
School is out for Jamestown Public School students but that doesn't mean lunch will stop being served.
JPS lunch program launched a free meal program in mid-March to help combat hunger in the community due to the closure of schools amidst the coronavirus pandemic. With the school year coming to a close on May 22, the district will have to adjust to continue to fill the stomachs of those in the community.
"My desire to extend the program is to accommodate, to the best of our ability, the needs of families in terms of food service," said Rob Lech, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent. "The program, in its current state, can't exist past June 30. We will then transition to the summer meals program, which we have done in the past."
Since the start of the program two months ago the district has served nearly 18,000 meals in Jamestown. Lech said he has seen orders increase from around the 300 mark to approximately 700 meals served per day. The uptick in orders was due in part to the online order forms provided to families by the district.
"This tells us that there is a definitive need for this program in unprecedented times," Lech said. "It is important to know that this program is a federal program, so we are reimbursed for each meal served. We are looking to continue this program, through a waiver request, through June 30. We continue to be very proud of this opportunity to serve and support our families in Jamestown."
The school board approved the waiver on Monday evening so it will be business as usual for the food service department until July 1. At that time the district expects to implement its summer meals program. The summer meals program is only available to students under the age of 18.
"The summer meals program is somewhat different than what we are doing currently," Lech said. "The regulations were slackened to our food service program due to the pandemic and that flexibility ends June 30. The summer meals program is more strict and it requires the child to be on campus at Washington Elementary and eat the meal there."
Those stipulations will be enforced come July but with the approval of the waiver, Lech said the district is pleased to serve the community for another 40 days.
"We want to ensure that we have a program available for families," Lech said. "The summer meals program is more stringent, but it still provides a good opportunity for families in need. Again, this is consistent with what we have done in the past, but the importance of these programs has escalated in the midst of the pandemic."
It is not just JPS that is offering free food to students headed into the summer months. The Great Plains Food Bank Youth Summer Meals Program will be returning to Jamestown for its second year this summer.
"Currently, it is looking very similar to last year, except for Stutsman County Extension will be serving all summer instead of just the end and Two Rivers Activity Center will serve Saturdays and Sundays," said Jenae Meske, child and senior hunger program manager of Great Plains Food Bank.
The program, slated to start June 1, will serve all children under the age of 18 a meal free of charge. Meske said no income verifications or advanced sign-up is required.
"I am expecting a very successful summer this year," Meske said. "Since we work with a lot of wonderful businesses and organizations in your community, they do a lot of the leg work and prep work in ensuring the success of this program. They make my job a lot less stressful."
TRAC, the Hansen Arts Park and the Stutsman County Extension office are the sites that have agreed to operate as distribution sites at this time. Meske said Nickeus and Leapaldt parks were distribution sites for the program's inaugural year but due to the pandemic, the park programs are still to be determined per the Jamestown Parks and Recreation Department.
"Because of businesses and organizations having to change around how they work and process it has changed how quickly we are able to get things squared away for the summer," Meske said. "This year we have had to be OK with not having finalized plans yet for all of our sites. One thing positive that it has allowed us to do is to make it easier for kids to be able to get meals. For the summer, the congregate meal requirement has been waived so they are no longer required to stay on-site to eat their meals."
Meske expressed gratitude to the city of Jamestown for fighting against the coronavirus pandemic with GPFB to keep the bellies of the students full.
"I would just like to thank the Jamestown Parks and Rec Department, Jamestown Arts Center, and Stutsman County Extension for their continued support in wanting to feed children, despite all the uncertainty this summer," Meske said. "It is very encouraging to see you all working together to serve those in your community."