The Free School Lunch Program is Expiring This Summer — Here's What You Can Do Next

A program that offered access to free school lunch expired on June 30, leaving 10 million children vulnerable to hunger. The Free School Lunch program was initiated in March 2020 as a response to the pandemic and gave 30 million kids free breakfast and lunch at school and during summer break, per the organization ParentsTogether Action.

While low-income families can still have access to free meals, they’ll have to meet a cutoff of earning less than about $30,000 for a family of three. The waivers for universal free lunch were renewed twice by a bipartisan vote however, this time around, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to extend the waivers in the government funding package. While Democrats and Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins introduced a bill to extend the free meals, it doesn’t have enough Republican support in the Senate.

“No kid should have to go hungry, it’s really as simple as that,” Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement, according to Politico. “Kids need healthy meals to succeed and live up to their full potential. It shouldn’t be controversial to make sure our schools can keep kids fed.” Days before the program expired, President Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act which will allow meals to be funded through September 30, and grant waivers through June 30, 2023.

If your family is struggling with paying for school lunches, there are some resources that can offer key relief. First, check to see if your school has a food pantry. These helpful spots were created in partnership with food banks and school administrators to offer free food like meat, fresh fruits and vegetables. For reference, the non-profit Feeding America operates more than 4,000 school pantries across the country. You can also shop for free food at your local food bank. Use this tool to enter your zip code and find the place closest to you.

There are also a number of summer food service programs, which offer free meals for kids up to 18 years old. You can find your closest meal site by texting the word FOOD to 304-304 and you’ll be given locations that serve free meals. Or call the The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline  at 1-866-348-6479 for more information on summer food programs. You can head to No Kid Hungry’s website as well, where you’ll find free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks near you.

Not struggling with paying for school lunches but want to help out families who are? Volunteer at a food bank! 51% of food programs rely entirely on volunteers, per Feeding America. You can also host a food drive for local parents, reach out to your elected officials about your concerns regarding lack of free school meals and, if your school doesn’t have a pantry, reach out to administrators to suggest that they start one. Every little bit helps a family in need.

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