Franklin Countys First News

RSU 9 to offer free meals for all students

RSU 9 students can still expect the same menu of healthy meals, regardless of which learning style they choose this year.

FARMINGTON - When the chaos of COVID-19 closures began sweeping through local communities this spring, one of the biggest concerns was how school age children would be impacted. There were many questions about academics and socialization - plenty of which still linger in our daily conversations - but there were also practical health and wellness issues to grapple with.

For many students, school-based meals are critical. According to their website, the Mt. Blue School District Nutrition Department serves an average of 1,500 meals each day. With many made-from-scratch items and locally sourced ingredients, each serving is designed to provide students with a balanced diet and all menus follow U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.

Traditionally, these meals have been served at school, during the school day. When the pandemic hit and students began learning remotely, the department quickly shifted gears. Thanks to support and funding provided by the USDA, the district began offering meals to go through the Unanticipated School Closure Model.

“What that did was allow schools to serve all students breakfast and lunch, free of charge,” Director of Food Services for Mt Blue Regional School District Andy Hutchins explained.

In addition to serving students, the new model allows the district to provide meals for all kids, aged 0 to 18, regardless of their enrollment status. “It really allowed us to do what we do best,” Hutchins said. “To just focus on feeding these kids.”

While initial funding for the program was approved through the end of the school year, the USDA later extended its timeline through the end of the summer.

“We served an unbelievable amount of meals over the summer, about 600 a day,” he said. Meals were served at various locations throughout the district and delivered to students who could not make it to the sites for pick-up.

As the district began preparing to bring students back to campus this fall, the meal program’s future looked uncertain. However, the USDA announced another extension last week and it will now run through the end of December.

As a result, students in RSU 9 will continue to receive meals, regardless of whether they are full-time remote learners or participating in the hybrid learning model.

“Our hope is that we can feed a lot more students now,” Hutchins said.

In person students will receive their meals at the beginning of the school day. Meal orders may be placed ahead of time or before 8:00 a.m. for same day pick-up. In order to increase access, families can order and pick-up breakfast and/or lunch at any of the pick-up locations, even if it is not where the student normally attends class.

“The menu may vary a little bit,” Hutchins explained, depending on if they are in person or pick-up meals, but all are designed to provide students with healthy options throughout the school week.

“I’d urge families to take advantage of this,” he said. “We really want to feed as many children in the district as possible.”

For more information about the program, including pick-up locations and weekly menus, please visit the Mt. Blue Nutrition website at www.mtbluenutrition.weebly.com.

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