Cafeteria workers Jackie Holland, left, and Francis Bullock prepare school lunches at Elkhart Elementary.

Elkhart schools are providing free meals for all students, thanks to a grant the Texas Department of Agriculture approved this week. The grant comes from the state’s COVID relief fund, and allows Elkhart Independent School District to serve free breakfast and lunch to the district’s 1,200 students through the remainder of the school year, or as long as funds are available.

This fall, the United States Department of Agriculture extended the Summer Seamless Option, also known as the Summer Food Service Program, through the 2020-2021 school year to provide relief from financial hardship to schools and families during the pandemic. 

Elkhart schools qualified for the grant because they previously participated in federal programs, including the USDA’s National School Lunch Program and the SSO. 

Under NSLP, school districts provide free or low-priced meals to students from low-income families. SSO allowed Elkhart ISD to provide meals to students during the 2020 school shut down and summer break.

According to the grant’s requirements, the district must provide free meals to all students in the district regardless of family income; moreover, faculty and staff must continue paying for their own meals. 

Superintendent Lamont Smith said the free meals will benefit students and their families. 

“We recognized there’s an opportunity to provide a free service for all our children,” Smith said. “We’re excited about being able to save our parents some money.”

Smith credits Marcus Wilkins, the district’s food service director, for suggesting that EISD apply for the program. He also acknowledged Administrative Assistant Rachel Glenn, who coordinated the application.

Wilkins is an employee of Southwest Foodservice Excellence LLC, a company that contracts with Elkhart ISD to prepare meals for students and staff. The Humane Society of the United States awarded SFE an “A” rating in March for its focus on providing plant-based foods and its humane animal practices. 

Smith said the free meals will boost the students’ academic performance. 

“The grant creates the opportunity for all our kids to get balanced meals each day,” he said. “A well-fed kid is able to focus in class and in turn do well academically.”

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