“The Lunch Ladies” — the Manteca Unified nutrition education staff that has been handling curbside school meal pickups since mid-March — are now serving free meals to all youth between the ages of 2 and 18 Monday through Friday.
Prior to Manteca Unified receive a federal pass thru grant from the state the meals were restricted to just those enrolled in Manteca Unified campuses. It also means student ID cards are no longer needed thru Dec. 31 to receive meals that will also be provided over upcoming breaks in October, November and during the December holidays.
And if the California Department of Education allows a test run conducted last Friday to be part of the program that ends Dec. 31, students may also be provided free meals to cover the weekends as well through a pandemic funded effort of the US Department of Agriculture.
“The Lunch Ladies that distribute the meals have become the only daily in person face-to-face contacts students have,” noted Stephanie Huff who serves a Nutrition Education Supervisor.
Huff said riding with their parents to pick up lunch is now a highlight of many students’ day as it provides a physical connection to their school.
The upgraded program now in effect through Dec. 31 no longer requires school attendance or a parent to accompany students to pick up lunches. Youth can also go to any school site serving the meals instead of being restricted to their home school.
And while income verification has not been required since the pandemic started to receive a free meal, Huff said those that qualify — even those who were approved last year — must submit applications annually for their children to continue to be eligible to receive free meals once they physically return to school. The deadline for that application to be completed is Sept. 18. It can be found on the school district website — mantecausd.net — under “nutrition education” and clicking on “ free and reduced lunch application”.
The importance of completing and returning the form goes beyond making sure the school district is reimbursed for meals. It is also used to determine eligibility for households to receive lower rates for PG&E as well as other discounts such as for Internet service.
The pilot meals for weekends that the CDE must approved for it to continue saw students last Friday receiving bags with 54 items to cover breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner for that day as well as Saturday, Sunday, and Labor Day. It included 12 milks and 12 juices among other items such as sandwiches and fruit, servings or cereal, and items like burritos and pasta that can easily be microwaved.
Nutrition Education is also able to do from scratch offerings from time to time such as their popular rice bowls.
They also supply meals to the four Give Every Child Chance locations where students that do not have any parents at home due to work during distance learning are attending so they can be supervised while learning and for a period of time before and after school hours.
The lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Serving locations can be accessed at musdnutrition.net.
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