School District encourages all families to participate in free remote learning food services program

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By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer

ARHS food service employees Nancy Casaceli and Dianne Cofer wait at the door to distribute lunches
Photo/Liz Nolan

Northborough/Southborough – The Northborough Southborough Public School District will continue to offer free lunches for all children ages 0-21 through June 30, 2021 as part of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program offered due to the pandemic. Parents are encouraged to enroll to participate no matter the level of household income or their child’s learning model.

Director of Operations Keith Lavoie said the overall intent of the federal program is to address food insecurities and that every child receives a meal. The program is not limited to children in school; it’s open to toddlers, as well as children who have graduated high school. 

If students have in-person learning, they are able to receive free lunch at school on those days. Lunches to cover the remote learning days are available for pick up on Mondays between 11 a.m. to 1 pm. Distribution is from Robert E. Melican Middle School and Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS) in Northborough or at P. Brent Trottier Middle School in Southborough.

The District’s food service program is self-sustaining; it is not included in the operational budget. The food service program benefits from greater participation in the free remote learning food services program, as it is reimbursed $3.653 for every meal that is requested and picked up.

“When it comes to keeping our programs viable, if we don’t have participation with the pick-up program or when students are in person, then there is no other income to offset the salaries, food and packaging,” said Lavoie. “Reimbursement is the only income to sustain the program.”

Program participation is gaining momentum, but additional participation at the high school level is needed to break even.

At ARHS, approximately 1,425 free meals are served as part of the program each week, but 10,000 per month are needed to break even and a shortfall is anticipated.

Approximately, 3,450 meals per week in Northborough and 2,340 in Southborough are being served and are on target to break even.

The process is labor intensive on Mondays to mass produce meals, and to keep up with cleaning, spacing, and other requirements. The District is trying to offer a variety of foods and be flexible as possible to accommodate allergies, dietary preferences and religious restrictions.   

Staff at the Robert E. Melican Middle School prepare some of the hundreds of lunches that will be given to students.
Photo/Cheryl Arsenault

“The feedback has been great,” said Lavoie. “I think it has gained some popularity and is now part of people’s routines.”  

Although parents are urged to pick up from their designated school, the District can be flexible with pick up locations for parent convenience. For example, if a Southborough parent would prefer to pick up their high schooler’s lunches at Trottier Middle School instead of ARHS, it can be arranged. Something to keep in mind is that the portions being distributed at the high school level are bigger than those distributed from the middle schools. 

Although pick up is required, the District has a small group of volunteers who have offered to make deliveries to families who have no means for pick up. 

“It’s been a good community initiative,” said Lavoie. “I’m glad we started it.”

What doesn’t help the program are no shows on pick up day. In order for the District to be reimbursed by the USDA, meals must be physically handed to the parent or child.

Due to safe food requirements, all the packaging and paper bags used cannot be recycled to be used again by the District as some parents questioned.

Families who typically qualify for free and reduced lunch are asked to still complete the required application even if lunches are free this year. The District’s ability to receive future educational grant funding, that is used for tutoring or supplemental math and reading support, can be impacted if that paperwork is not submitted.

Questions regarding the program for Northborough/Southborough schools K-8 can be directed to Kyle Parson at [email protected] or for Algonquin Regional High School to Dianne Cofer at [email protected]