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The mobile school lunch delivery program in place this spring and summer served nearly 1,600 meals daily. (Al Lohman/The Patriot)

Early this spring to the end of June, Waconia Public Schools through its Café #110 offered free mobile lunches to district families when classrooms were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, as school resumes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended flexibility and is using congressionally appropriated federal funding that enables school districts across the country to provide meals to kids 18 and younger at no charge. The move is intended to help ensure that children, no matter what the family situation, have access to nutritious food in the face of the pandemic, according to USDA officials.

Cafe #110 began serving meals under the free meal program on Sept. 10. The meal benefit is expected to continue through Dec. 31.

Cafe #110 has several models to serve meals to children, according to Barb Schank, director of the district’s Nutritional Services department.

Elementary students attending school in person will receive a complete lunch and snack every day they are in school at no cost. Middle school and high school students in the hybrid model will be served a lunch and a snack on days they are in school and have meal bags available for them to take home at the end of the day for days when they are distance learning.

Families of students doing all distance learning are able to pick up meals at the high school each week. Starting this Thursday, Café #110 will be offering meal bags with five complete breakfasts and five complete lunches. The meals will be distributed at the same location as the district’s meal distribution last spring and summer - Door “A” at the Waconia High School, 1650 Community Drive. This plan takes the place of meal pickup from Southview on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Waconia School District had been serving nearly 1,600 free meals a day at the end of last school year.

“Families in our community might feel tentative about accepting free meals because they’re afraid of taking food from people who need it. But this program is set up to benefit children, families, our community, distributors, manufacturers, farmers and school nutrition programs across the country,” Schank said. “A vast majority of our student population is not in school to participate in the daily lunch program this year which is a significant loss in our ability to provide meals. The meals we serve generate revenue that pays for our staffing, food, utilities, etc. With this waiver, for every meal we provide to our children, the USDA will reimburse our school meal program with federal funds. So, the more meals we serve, the better it is for everyone.”

A signup form for free meal bags, available on the Café #110 website, is helpful as the district rolls out the program, according to Schank, although is not mandatory. Cafe #110 will communicate updates through the website and other school communications.

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