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Identification, enrollment no longer needed for free OKC school meals

Director of School Nutrition Services Shonia Hall serves free breakfast and lunch to a student at Rockwood Elementary on March 23 as Oklahoma City Public Schools distributes free meals to students while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. A federal program extension will allow the district to continue providing free meals to any child for the rest of 2020, no I.D. or proof of enrollment needed. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Director of School Nutrition Services Shonia Hall serves free breakfast and lunch to a student at Rockwood Elementary on March 23 as Oklahoma City Public Schools distributes free meals to students while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. A federal program extension will allow the district to continue providing free meals to any child for the rest of 2020, no I.D. or proof of enrollment needed. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

A free meal program from Oklahoma City Public Schools is once again open to any child, no identification or proof of enrollment required.

An extension to a federal waiver will allow Oklahoma City schools to continue handing out grab-and-go meals to any child age 18 and under, regardless of whether the child attends a district school.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its Summer Food Service Program through the end of 2020 or until available funding runs out.

The USDA hadn’t extended the program by the first day of the school year on Monday. This forced the district to require a school I.D. or other proof of enrollment to pick up meals on the first two days of school.

Now, the extension will open Oklahoma City’s high-demand meal service to all children.

Breakfasts and lunches will be served at 71 sites across the district, including every district school. A list of meal service locations is available at okcps.org. Families can pick up meals from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday while classes are in session.

Oklahoma City schools are conducting the first nine weeks of the school year online. Virtual class schedules include a lunch break during meal pick-up times.

The district has served 1.7 million meals since schools closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nutrition staff distributed grab-and-go food packs at school buildings, parks and other locations.

Continuing food service was a top priority in the aftermath of school closures, as many students depend on school cafeterias to get daily meals. More than half of all students in Oklahoma City schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunches because of low family income.

“Just because our students are learning remotely doesn’t mean it’s not important for OKCPS to provide healthy meals for our students,” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said in a statement. “Research suggests that children perform at a higher level when they’ve had a healthy meal full of the nutrients their growing minds and bodies need.”

Oklahoma City schools handed out 892,800 meals between March and May. The district continued service through the summer and distributed 516,900 from June to July. Schools have given out 282,500 meals since Aug. 10.

Eliminating the need for proof of enrollment reduces contact time between nutrition staff and the general public, said Shonia Hall, director of district school nutrition services. This keeps the drive-thru distribution format in line with COVID-19 protocols.

“Removing barriers that may prevent a child from being fed is one of the best things we can do for our community,” Hall said in a statement. “It’s so much easier for a caregiver to be able to pick up meals at one site if they have students in multiple districts or if they have little ones.”

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