Roaring Fork Schools drop ‘Grab-and-Go’ meals for all, after USDA discontinues waiver program | PostIndependent.com
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Roaring Fork Schools drop ‘Grab-and-Go’ meals for all, after USDA discontinues waiver program

Ike Fredgregill
Post Independent
Roaring Fork Schools kitchen manager Vickie Walker fills grab-and-go bags in April 2020 to prep for the meal delivery service during the school shutdowns brought by the coronavirus.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

After providing meals to anyone 18 and younger since spring, the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) is reverting to its regular meal policy Monday when online distance learning begins for the new school year, with a few adjustments, a district representative said.

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures nationwide, the USDA issued school districts a waiver, loosening meal-accessibility restrictions and granting all student-aged children free meals regardless of their eligibility or enrollment in a reduced-cost or free lunch program, RFSD Food Service Director Michelle Hammond explained in a news release.

“Because the federal government has not extended the waiver,” Hammond said in the release, “schools must follow the National School Lunch program regulations regardless of whether they are offering in-person or distance learning.

Jeff Gatlin, Chief Operating Officer for the school district, said the district served about 150,000 meals, including breakfasts and lunches, from April-July under the Grab-and-Go program, which ended July 24.

“We knew we still needed to feed our kiddos,” Gatlin explained.

Changes coming

All students enrolled in RFSD will have access to the district’s lunches, but those who did not apply and qualify for free or reduced lunch status will be charged full price, the release said. 

“A bus is going to show up just like before,” Gatlin said of the rolling meal distribution at RFSD elementary schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, and at designated neighborhood bus stops. “A meal will be there, but those meals will be tied to a student’s lunch account.”

Meal payments can be made through the district’s online Parent Portal account or by mailing payment to the district’s office, the news release said. 

Previously, meals were handed out with few questions asked. Under the new rules, students or the people picking up student meals will now be asked to provide identifying information for the student, including the student’s name, lunch account PIN, school, grade and birthdate.

Students and families picking up meals at the distribution locations will be asked to adhere to all personal safety recommendations, including social distancing and wearing a face covering, the news release said.

Without the waiver program, Gatlin said the number of meals distributed could drop below the Grab-and-Go program’s numbers.

“I would imagine our food service is preparing what they are typically used to for meal counts,” he said. “They’ll likely adjust daily production as we get further into the school year, but we’ll always have a few extra on hand just in case.”

Food assistance

All families are encouraged to submit a Free and Reduced Meal application and applications must be submitted every school year. 

“If you had free or reduced lunch last year, you’ll need to apply again,” Gatlin explained. “We really can’t stress enough the importance of filling out these applications.” 

Parents can contact Hammond at 970-384-6016 by email at mrhammond@rfschools.com with questions about the program and how to apply. The application can be downloaded and printed off by visiting http://www.rfsd.k12.co.us.

Pick up locations and schedules can be viewed on the district’s website or here.

The district is beginning the new school year with distance learning for the fire few weeks, but hopes to resume classroom instruction as soon as Sept. 21, depending on public health trends and guidance.

The potential for COVID-19 flare ups once classes resume persists, so it is possible the school lunch program could change in the coming months, Gatlin said. 

For now, RFSD is focusing on taking the semester one step at a time.

“Our goal is to continue to provide nutritional services for our kids — this is absolutely critical for our kids and their families,” Gatlin said. “We’re going to do our best to adjust to whatever conditions come our way.”

ifredregill@postindependent.com


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