Education

Jefferson County Public Schools is among many Kentucky school districts bringing back curbside meal pickups this month, now that Congress has re-upped an expansion of the federal child nutrition program.

Officials say the change means more students will be able to take advantage of summer meals.

Normally the National School Lunch Program requires students to eat each meal on site. That can be a barrier to families during the summer, especially when parents are working or have to care for multiple children. 

“Parents can’t get to the school sites for congregate settings like these,” Dan Ellinor, assistant director of nutrition services for JCPS, said from the cafeteria at Tully Elementary in Jeffersontown. 

The district was forced to go back to onsite-only meals while Congress debated extending pandemic-era waivers that allowed for curbside pickups. Lawmakers re-upped the waivers days before they expired, and districts had to wait several more weeks while regulations trickled down through the federal, state and local levels of bureaucracy.

“That did delay rollout a little bit,” Ellinor said. But curbside is coming back to eight meal sites around the district on Thursday, July 21, and Thursday, July 28.

Any parent or guardian can drive or walk up to a meal site and receive five days worth of frozen or shelf-stable breakfasts and lunches per child. No ID or verification is required. The meals are available for all children 18 and under. Children do not have to be JCPS students.

Locations and hours are on the JCPS website.

However, not all districts and other summer meal sponsors were able to switch back to curbside meal service.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education told WFPL News approximately 75% of program sponsors are making the shift.

“The remainder of the participating districts and non-profit organizations have chosen not to participate for a variety of reasons. For many, it is difficult to make this pivot in the middle of the summer,” spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman wrote. 

Summer meal programs have to be planned months in advance. Districts have to order the shelf-stable food well ahead of time, especially given recent supply-chain issues. 

Ellinor said JCPS is only able to pivot back to curbside because officials guessed correctly what Congress would do, and ordered food and supplies needed for curbside service with no guarantee it would work out.

“We took a gamble about six months ago and said, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to proceed,’ and it paid off. So we’re able to do that for our community,” he said.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.