Free food for everyone

One of the legacies of the pandemic in America is that the government has taken over the basic responsibility, at least on paper, of feeding the nation’s children.

You may have heard of SNAP, WIC, AFDC, EITC, and the several rounds of stimulus checks, all efforts to provide resources to low-income families to afford food. But other efforts, such as the national school-lunch program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program are being reworked to distribute food directly to everyone.

This Sahan Journal article from July 2020, the first pandemic summer, outlines the vast new scope of the free-food programs in Minnesota.

But the same week schools closed, Minneapolis Public Schools, and other districts across the state, unveiled a new way to feed kids: They began providing families with boxed meals to make up for the missing breakfasts and lunches.

No questions asked,

“There are no barriers whatsoever or requirements of documentation,” said Julie Danzl, student wellness manager for Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary and Wellness Services. “It is open to everyone.”

Can’t make it to the distribution site? Don’t worry, they deliver, and have been since the first days of the pandemic. This WCCO story from March 2020,

St. Paul schools have found another use for their school buses. They’re delivering food as it’s day two of all K-through-12 students at home in Minnesota. Here’s how it works. The buses are going to be filled with boxes of meals. Then, the buses will drive their normal routes.

Edina Public Schools (EPS) report that less than nine percent of its student body qualifies for the free or reduced-price lunch program. In the pre-pandemic era, schools could not offer free food to all students unless the school was located in an area where at least 30 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The Feds waived any eligibility requirements for the duration of the pandemic.

Edina High School currently displays the following notice on its website,

Under the old rules, not one of the 17 free-food distribution locations listed here would have qualified for free food for all. Those locations would have been bound by income eligibility requirements imposed on each recipient.

The neighboring suburb of Eden Prairie ups the ante by offering free food for the weekend to all students and their families. From a Facebook post,

We are also informed that home delivery options are available. Discretely, of course. The fine print on the above offer reads,

Food is available to every child, regardless of income or participation in other food programs. No registration required.

You may have noticed–after the explanation of color-coded bags by ethnicity and dietary preference–the June end-date for the program. Don’t worry, there are numerous efforts at the state and Federal level to extend the program and make it permanent.