Both Calhoun City and Gordon County school systems announced earlier this week that all schools meals will be completely free for all students for the entirety of the 2021-2022 school year.

Because meals will be free throughout the school year, free and reduced lunch applications are not required and will not be collected by either system.

GCS Director of School Nutrition Nicole Heard said lunches would be free for students thanks to participation in the Seamless Summer Option, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program aimed at supporting access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to the coronavirus through June 30, 2022.

“That program is being offered nationwide for all school nutrition as part of the response to COVID,” Head said. “We’re really happy to be part of it because we know there are kids in our community who rely on these meals and this ensures every student has a proper, nutritious meal to keep them full during the day.”

Maintained through the Dept. of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) arm, the Seamless Summer Option is particularly concerned with maintaining food safety and security for students during the 2021-2022 academic year when schools are reopening but many children are not yet vaccinated. It hopes to do so by limiting the need to collect meal payments at meal sites, which speeds up the service of meals and thereby reduces contact and exposure to COVID-19.

The program also facilitates implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for safe school meal service, which include serving meals outdoors or in classrooms.

“Schools may not have access to electronic systems typically used to determine eligibility and collect payment when meals are served outside the cafeteria,” according to the FNS website for the Seamless Summer Option. “Instead of spending time confirming each student’s enrollment and eligibility status at a central point-of-service, this waiver gives school food service professionals greater flexibility to distribute meals at a variety of safe meal sites that serve a smaller number of children.”

According to the same website, all school food authorities in participating states, like Georgia, that want to take part in the Seamless Summer Option can do so, regardless of location. Schools may also choose not to participate in the program at their own discretion.

Calhoun City Schools Superintendent Michele Taylor said she was thrilled to be able to offer free lunches to students next year.

“We know what a difference that makes for our students, so we are very proud to take part in this program,” Taylor said. “We want everyone to be as safe and well taken care of as possible.”

Kelcey Walker is a reporter for the Calhoun Times in Calhoun, Ga.

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