Dorothy McAuliffe column: Virginia’s children and school nutrition heroes need our support | Columnists

The miles-long lines of cars at our nation’s food banks illustrate these numbers all too well. They are a stark reminder of the virus’ tragic impact on our nation’s hunger crisis, which now touches families who never have struggled before with putting food on the table.

New developments are increasing the impact of nutrition departments in Virginia beyond the 450,000 students who relied on free or reduced price meals before the pandemic hit. More than 270 schools recently enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), affecting more than 145,000 students for the first time.

In this time of unprecedented need, CEP can help schools to provide critical nutrition to students whose families are being impacted by the ongoing crisis. CEP is an option for school meal funding that makes it easier to feed kids by allowing all students to eat breakfast and lunch at no cost, and reduces the administrative burden on schools and families.

Participating school districts can utilize CEP for four years. This is good news now and will continue through the end of the pandemic when school districts can begin rebuilding nutrition budgets. Higher meal participation by all students helps school nutrition programs thrive and eliminates school meal debt, which has been on the rise across the commonwealth.

For schools that are not eligible or not yet benefiting from CEP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently extended child nutrition waivers — flexibilities that allow districts to serve all youth in a variety of ways, regardless of income level — mean that emergency programs in the summer, like grab-and-go models where a guardian can pick-up multiple meals, will stay in place until the end of the year.

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