Butler County schools adjust to feed students during summer of coronavirus

As area schools prepare to open under the continued coronavirus threat next month, student meals programs haven’t slowed during summer break to feed students from low income families.

The school-based programs in Butler and southern Warren counties are most active in the area’s largest schools systems – Lakota, Hamilton, Fairfield, Middletown and Mason.

In general, smaller enrollment districts in the area are coordinating free student meal distribution during the week with local pantries and other charitable organizations and churches to make sure none of their students suffer nutritionally while out from school.

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Thanks to increased federal and state local funding, school food programs for free and reduced student meals are keeping busy this summer.

A recent morning at Middletown High School saw cars lining up in the school campus drive near the building’s front entrance to roll up to the district’s first food truck to pick up hot lunches and breakfasts for the next day.

The district’s free summer student meal program “is phenomenal,” said Victoria Burton, a grandmother of Middletown students.

Burton travels to the school each weekday to pick up free meals to help her daughter who is working outside the home.

“This is so appreciated. This is a wonderful and the meals are really good and at no cost,” she said while waiting in her car to be handed meals by school food service workers in masks.

Mandy Stidham, kitchen manager at the high school, said she hears those sort of grateful comments a lot from many school families.

“They have fallen on hard times and they need the food we are giving,” said Stidham. “They are very thankful.”

“The Middie Meal Machine (truck) offers a hot meal compared to the cold packed meals at the other school sites (in the district). Additionally, we hand out a packed breakfast to children for the next morning,” said Middletown Schools Spokeswoman Elizabeth Beadle, adding it’s all done at coronavirus safe social distancing.

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In Hamilton Schools’ 10,000-student district, the expanded summer meal program remains popular as some families struggle financially during the coronavirus.

“We are still operating under the emergency school feeding program through the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). It is part of the Seamless Summer Program, which is a federal USDA sponsored program,” said Joni Copas spokeswoman for Lakota Schools.

“We served over 160,000 meals to our students since this past March (when Ohio schools were ordered shut due to the coronavirus) to the end of school,” said Copas.

“And we have already served 12,000 meals during these summer months for a grand total of 172,000 meals since March,” she said.

For qualified area school families interested in free meals for their school-age children, they can check their local public school district websites for information or go to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website, which includes a free meal locator search service to connect to a local school or food pantry provider.

For those without internet access, they can call the USDA National Hunger Hotline for food assistance. The hotline, operated by Hunger Free America, can be reached Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) (for Spanish).

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