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USDA extension ensures meals for all Beaufort County children

An 11th-hour extension of funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will mean that Beaufort County Schools can continue serving free meals to local children who are not enrolled in the school system.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, USDA funding has provided free meals to all Beaufort County children under the age of 18. As that funding was scheduled to end this week, BCS was preparing to shift to a model of serving exclusively to its students, a change that might have left some local children without a stable source of nutritious meals.

“I’m absolutely delighted that they’ve extended this,” said Joanne Kirven, BCS Director of School Nutrition. “We were going to have to resort (Tuesday) to the National School Lunch Program. Where that was potentially going to give us a little bit of an issue was with the fact that we could only serve children who were enrolled in Beaufort County Schools.”

For the school system, the shift to the National School Lunch Program would have created additional logistical hassles in feeding students. Under that model, each child would have to be identified and cross-referenced against BCS enrollment, potentially causing some families to be turned away. Parents would also have to sign a consent form for someone else to pick up their child’s meals, which could create difficulties for daycares, pastors or family friends picking up the meals.

“That’s a very hard thing for parents to understand when we’re having to follow USDA guidelines that don’t meet what the parents want us to be doing,” Kirven said.

Since school started back for the fall semester, the school system has served up an average of 3,500 meals per day, both breakfasts and lunches, including meals for the weekends. Kirven said this funding extension, which lasts through Dec. 31, will allow the school system to continue meeting those needs for the broader community.

“We really hope that people do reach out to us if they are having any difficulty in terms of getting a meal, being able to pick it up or if the timing is not working for them,” Kirven said. “I’m really encouraging people to reach out to school nutrition, student services, counselors or social workers in their school to see what we can do in partnership, to make sure we are reaching anybody that might not be receiving our services right now.”

Children in Beaufort County under the age of 18 can receive breakfast, lunch and meals to take home over the weekend at one of eight schools and three community sites established throughout the county.

Curbside service takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, at Eastern Elementary, Bath Elementary, Chocowinity Primary, John Cotten Tayloe Elementary, John Small School, Northeast Elementary, S.W. Snowden Elementary, Washington High School, the Belhaven Civic Center, Pinetown Volunteer Fire Department and River Road Estates.

For further details, or to discuss how best to meet your child’s nutritional needs, contact your school or the BCS School Nutrition Department at 252-946-2012.