xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Federal funding allows Howard County school system’s free meals program to continue through end of 2020

Once the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in March, school systems across the state instituted free meals programs for its students.

While free meals in Howard County were previously distributed to children in families who applied and qualified for assistance, the program during the pandemic has been free for all students in the county.

Advertisement

The “Grab-and-Go” program was set to change back to only for students in the Free and Reduced Meals program once school began, but last week the Howard County school system announced that funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow the meals to remain free for all through the end of 2020.

“With everything on the plates of students and families this fall, food should not be something they have to worry about,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said. “I am grateful that we are able to continue the critical service of providing healthy and nutritious meals during this time without the constraints of having to determine which students must pay full or partial price and which students receive free meals.”

Advertisement

During the first semester, which ends Jan. 28, the meals program will operate from 8 to 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students can receive breakfast and lunch, and parents can pick them up at either time.

Stations will be set up at every public school in Howard County except Burleigh Manor Middle School and Hammond High School, both of which have ongoing construction. Parents can pick up meals from any school in the county, and their children do not need to be present.

The food program started March 17, four days after schools closed because of the pandemic. While breakfast and lunch are being handed out for free now, in the spring, three meals and a snack, as well as meals for the weekend, were distributed at 14 different sites. By June, more than 1 million meals were provided for children in the county.

For breakfast, some meals students receive are egg and cheese sandwiches, cereal or bagels. For lunch, the meals range from cheeseburgers, ham and cheese sandwiches, pizza or chicken, among many other types of meals. The meals also provide milk, fruit and vegetables.

During a typical school year, approximately 5.5 million meals are served to the school system’s 59,000 students, according to Brian Ralph, the school system’s director of food and nutrition. Students who qualify for FARMs receive breakfast and lunch on school days.

About 23% of Howard County students are in the FARMs program, up from 15% in the past six years. While 23% is lower than Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties (about 30%), Baltimore County (44%) and Prince George’s County (60%), the number still equated to approximately 13,000 children, according to 2018-19 data. Howard County has the third-lowest FARMs rate in the state, behind only Calvert and Carroll counties.

During the pandemic, however, Martirano and Ralph both said it was critical not to limit the meals initiative to only students in FARMs.

“If you understand the dynamics of poverty, it’s a very humbling process or experience to have to ask for food,” Martirano said in June. “Understanding the dynamics of that, we don’t want to create any further challenges for families who may feel stigmatized by poverty. There should be no embarrassment or shame.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement