School districts around Huntington are working to get the word out to families that a federal universal free lunch program open to all students has ended.
But families with financial need will be able to submit applications for free or reduced-price meals.
“We are trying to communicate to families that the federal government is no longer funding free meals and asking them to fill out applications,” said Lisa Papalia, food services manager for the Half Hollow Hills Central School District.
The federal program expanded to serve all students during the early days of the Covid-19 epidemic, as businesses closed and parents were thrown out of work. Schools scrambled to organize food drives, and put together meals that parents could pick up and provide their families during the school year and summer break.
Papalia said that last year, her district provided 570,000 lunches and 221,000 breakfasts to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
School districts have been emailing parents, and posting information about the universal program ending since it officially ended in July.
Students who qualify for the income-based program would be able to receive free breakfast and lunch.
Organizations such as Helping Hand Rescue Mission, are preparing to meet the increasing need for food as families struggle to meet higher costs, the Rev. Kim Gambino said.
Half Hollow Hills and other districts have posted detailed explanations of eligiblity for the free program, along with applications.
Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky said the district had been reminding families for months about the program and to encourage those in need to apply for SNAP benefits and/or the free and reduced meal program.
“The recently passed Keep Kids Fed Act does allow those qualifying for reduced-price lunch to receive meals for free. It also increases the reimbursement rate for districts. Both help to a degree,” Polansky said.
Income eligibility guidelines