West Michigan school districts 'thankful' free lunch program extends into 2021

West Michigan school districts are thankful for the Trump administration's extension of the free lunch program into 2021. (WWMT/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Trump administration approved an extension to continue funding to provide free meals to all children through June 2021.

For many districts in West Michigan, the funding was what made feeding students possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Having the funding provides families with comfort knowing that their children will receive at least two free meals a day, every day, that is very important and helpful to our families," Julie Guthrie, the Food Service Director at Otsego Public Schools, said. "With more funding, we are able to reach more families who were unsure of how they would put food on the table."

Guthrie said at last check, Otsego Public Schools was providing more than 3,000 free meals a week. She said as more families found out about the meals, that number increased every week.

"We want our families to know that we are here to help. We want to get the word out," Guthrie said. "Families do not have to qualify for the meals, they are available to all students in every grade no matter the income."

According to Guthrie, Otsego Public Schools provides meals to students who are enrolled in in-person learning, hybrid courses and virtual learning. For students who are enrolled in hybrid programs, students learn in person twice a week and receive two free meals when they are at school. Parents do have the option to get free meals for the other five days a week. Students doing virtual learning can also get free meals from the school for seven days a week.

The federal program was originally set to expire at the end of the calendar year. The extension allowed schools and local programs to continue the use of the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option to provide no-cost meals to all children.