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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

COVID consequence: School district provides free meals for all children

The Forde Files – No. 210


May 8, 2021

Tina Fisher Cunningham

TUSD school bus drivers Jodie Bellflower and Annette Santa Maria pack a box of food for a waiting parent. The meals are distributed on Wednesdays while the district facilities are deep cleaned and sanitized.

Distribution every Wednesday, food for week for each child; Feds extend program to June 30, 2022

The Tehachapi Unified School District (TUSD) program that has provided a week's worth of free meals to families with children under the age of 18 since March will be extended through June 30, 2022. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service sent a waiver to school nutrition directors on April 20 allowing schools to continue to provide free meals for children whose nutrition has been disrupted by COVID school closures and reduced hours.

The extended program accommodates youngsters who – for the moment – can have only snacks during shortened school days and who are not in school every day.

The waiver enables the extension of a program that was designed to assure nutrition for children during summer and vacation times (called "the Seamless Summer Option"). In March 2020, the federal program waived all meal fees, a move that had been scheduled to expire in Sept. 2021.

On Wednesdays – when district facilities are closed for sanitation – TUSD deploys staffers from all departments to distribute food at Jacobsen Middle School, Tompkins, Golden Hills and Cummings Valley elementary schools, Stallion Springs Community Services District, Sand Canyon and Brite Lake. Meals for medically fragile students are delivered to their doors. Parents drive to a distribution site and say how many children they need to feed. Staffers hustle to pack boxes with fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, burgers, muffins and frozen pizza and pasta meals that will last the children for a week of breakfasts and lunches. If there are five children, there are meals for five.

The students do not need to be enrolled in the Tehachapi Unified School District schools to access the free meals. Some of the children are home schooled. Some are toddlers.

"We don't tell anybody no," said school bus driver Jodie Bellflower, who was distributing food on April 21 at Tompkins. "There's no reason to have a hungry kid."

Transportation Aide Lynette Zahnow and school bus driver Annette Santa Maria also were working at the site. They started at 6:45 a.m. and packed up empty boxes and extra food at 9:45 a.m. The rest of the week, they drive the school buses.

Tina Fisher Cunningham

Tehachapi Unified School District Transportation Aide Lynette Zahnow shows fresh produce that children will enjoy during the week – avocados, broccoli and strawberries.

The district nutrition kitchen at Jacobsen Middle School, under Nutrition Supervisor Hortencia Tapia, provided 750 meals that day, up from 500 a month ago.

"The district will continue to adjust student learning schedules as well as meal distribution plans in response to changing COVID-19 circumstances and state guidelines," TUSD Superintendent Stacey Everson-Larson said. "TUSD is 100 percent committed to ensuring all students have access to healthy and nutritious meals. Student learning and basic needs are strongly connected, so it is very important that the district continue efforts to provide meals to students. Our meals follow federal guidelines on nutrition standards which have an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, milk and whole greens.

"Although, of course, nutrition is the focus, our team works hard and is creative in providing meal components that are kid friendly, fun and taste good, while still meeting guidelines for calorie and fat content."

Information, call (661) 822-2144.


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