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All students and children in Cumberland County qualify for a free breakfast and lunch at no charge through an extension of the summer meal program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved flexibility in the federal program that allows summer meal program operators to continue serving free meals as late as Dec. 31, 2020, depending on funding.

Kathy Hamby, school nutrition supervisor, said the move allows the USDA to reimburse the school system for meals from Aug. 12, when school began, and Sept. 1, when the extended funding was announced. Students who paid for meals during that time will have those funds refunded to their meal account.

“Refunds should show up on accounts during the next couple of weeks,” Hamby said in an email. 

Meals for virtual learners, non-students under the age of 18 and weekend meals for those attending classes on campus can be scheduled for pick up through any school cafeteria manager. 

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy and nutritious feed,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meals program, and today we are also extending the summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially.

“We appreciate the incredible efforts by our school foodservice professionals year in and year out, but this year we have an unprecedented situation. This extension of the summer program authority will employ summer program sponsors to ensure meals are reaching all children — whether they are learning in the classroom or virtually — so they are fed and ready to learn, even in new and ever-changing learning environments.”

Schoo Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross said, “These waivers will allow school nutrition professionals to focus on nourishing hungry children for success, rather than scrambling to process paperwork and verify eligibility during a pandemic.”

The school system provided free meals from March through the start of school under the summer feeding program. More than 680,407 meals were served, with breakfast and lunch provided to thousands of children under age 18.