Some good news for families when it comes to meals for children for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year
Meal distribution sites (including ones in Champaign and Urbana) will continue serving free meals to all children through the end of the 2020-2021 school year thanks to an extension in USDA benefits
In the early months of the pandemic, many area schools and community organizations distributed food to any child 18 years and younger, regardless of income or usual eligibility requirements for free and reduced student meals at school. This made nutritious food widely available to families with few restrictions.
On Aug. 31, the United States Department of Agriculture approved the same flexibility to be extended through December 2020. On Oct. 9, the USDA again extended the benefits to continue through the end of the 2020-2021 school year, officially through June 30, 2021. Read the press release here.
The Illinois State Board of Education summarized the flexibilities:
- Allowing Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option meals to be served in all areas and at no cost
- Permitting meals to be served outside of the typically-required group settings and meal times
- Waiving meal pattern requirements as necessary
- Allowing parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children
What does this mean for Champaign-Urbana area families?
It is up to individual sites how they continue to roll out their meal distribution. With many students in remote learning at this point, there are a number of drive-through events or meal distribution sites already operating. The latest news means more access to food for more families for the next several months. All children ages 18 and younger qualify for meals.
(The parameters for distribution can vary from site to site; if there is any question about whether your family is eligible for meal distribution, we encourage you to reach out to the school or organization to confirm prior to actually attending the distribution.)
Where can I find free meals for kids in Champaign-Urbana?
Both Champaign Unit 4 School District and Urbana School District #116 are operating under these guidelines, as they did earlier this year, and allowing all children ages 18 and under to receive free meals.
From Champaign Unit 4: “(A)s a reminder, drive-thru sites are at Jefferson Middle School, Booker T. Washington & Garden Hills, open Mondays, 10 a.m.–1 p.m., no pre-order required.” Please contact Food Services at (217) 351-3852 to set up at-home delivery; meals are delivered on Mondays. Special diets and vegetarian options are available; call the Food Service Office with any questions. [Unit 4 will provide two weeks worth of meals at the Drive Thru sites and Home Deliveries on 3/8. No Home Deliveries, and Drive Thru sites will be closed, on 3/15 for spring break. Both will resume on 3/22.]
The Urbana School District #116 distribution time is 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at all elementary buildings and at UMS. Families may get up to 7 days of breakfasts and lunches at any Urbana #116 site. If you have further questions, including about meal delivery, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 217-384-3501. [Pickup on Wed. March 10 will include 14 meals, including a special baked ham meal, to cover spring break. There will be no meal pickup during the week of 3/15; meal pickups will resume the week of 3/22.]
Rantoul City Schools is also serving meals under these relaxed parameters. Simply show up to J.W. Eater on Mondays between 4-6 p.m. and tell them how many meals you need for the week. [There will be no meal pickup on Monday, 3/15/21 due to spring break. Meal pickups will resume on Monday, 3/22/21.]
The Mahomet-Seymour School District also sent out a message to all families informing them that all meals whether served in the classroom or curbside pickup are free for all children under 18 through the end of the year. If you have a need for meals, contact Shannon Cross 217-586-2326, and the form for requesting meals will be emailed to you. [For the week of March 8, families will receive 2 weeks of meals. There will be no distribution the week of March 15 during Spring Break.]
Learn more about meal distribution in and around Champaign-Urbana here. Check with the site you are hoping to visit to confirm if it is currently providing meals to all children 18 and under.
How is this different than the school meals program?
To receive free or reduced lunches, families must apply and show proof of income to determine which percentage of the meals they are required to pay. They also are required to be enrolled in the school district as a student in the traditional program.
Under the current guidelines, families do not have to show proof of income OR be enrolled in the school itself. So families with children who are not yet in school, families that homeschool or families that are in a position to benefit from receiving some assistance with meals right now for any reason all are able to participate.
Does this have anything to do with with the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits from earlier this year?
No. This is a separate initiative from the P-EBT funds that were distributed. It is not connected to SNAP benefits. This is simply an extension of school breakfast/lunch programs, making meals more readily available to families during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is currently unclear (and depends on funding allocated by the federal government) whether Illinois will distribute additional P-EBT funds during the 2020-2021 school year.