MARSHALL - Children in the Marshall School District have a unique opportunity available to them this summer, which includes free food.
For the past four years, Marshall Public Schools has been able to offer a Summer Food Service Program to its summer school participants. But for the first time, Marshall is also able to offer an Open Community Free Lunch Service Program to any children ages 1-18 who live within the district. Enrolled students who are 19 years old also qualify.
"It's for anybody in the Marshall School District, so we can have our parochial kids and home-schooled kids eat, too," said Tricia Stelter, MPS executive assistant. "So regardless of your economic status in the community now, you can come and eat breakfast and lunch with us at no charge. This is for students only, though. It's important to know that we can't feed adults."
Previously, schools were only eligible for the federally-reimbursed open program if the free and reduced lunch population of students was at 50 percent or higher, said Bruce Lamprecht, MPS business director. Currently, 38 percent of students at Marshall qualify for free and reduced lunch during the regular school year. The requirements for eligibility changed this year, however.
"The rules have changed a little bit, so this is our first year for the open site," Stelter said. "In the past, we had to be 50 percent or more to qualify so that all the kids in the community could eat. Now, they're using our census data, so they're looking at more of a southwestern Minnesota-type of perspective.
"They're looking at economic conditions in certain areas and based upon our demographics and low-income economic situation, that is how we're qualifying for the Open Summer Food Service Program now."
The food programs are funded, via cash reimbursements for eligible meals, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is administered by the Minnesota Department of Education Food and Nutrition Service.
"We will be reimbursed as a district, for the meals served," Lamprecht said. "We'll continue to transport the kids who are actually in the summer school program, too, whether it's ESY (extended school year), ESL (English as Second Language), Jumpstart or whatever. But the district can't be transporting kids just for the purpose of having lunch."
While the serving will always be at Marshall Middle School, Lamprecht explained that breakfast and lunch would only be offered during the days that educational programming is taking place, beginning June 4 and ending Aug. 1.
"As an example, next week, we have extended school year, which is special education programming, and that's June 4-6, so we won't be doing any feeding on June 3 or June 7," he said. "Then the following week, we have our EL summer school program starting that Monday through Thursday. We'll be doing feeding those days. People need to pay attention to what the schedule is."
Stelter said that information will be posted on the calendar on the MPS website (www.marshall.k12.mn.us). Taher Food Service Director Lori Fruin noted that menus, which she created, would also be on the website.
"We'll first feed the kids who are actually in the summer school program, for both breakfast and lunch, and then we have a specific time where the other kids who are interested in participating will be able to come," Lamprecht said.
Fruin said that for summer school participants, breakfast will be served from 7:45-8:15 a.m. and lunch will be offered from 11 a.m. to noon. For kids in the community, breakfast will be served from 8:15-8:30 a.m. and lunch offered from noon to 12:30 p.m. Everyone should enter through the front doors of the main entry at MMS.
"MMS is a centrally-located building, so most students, we feel, can walk or bike here if needed," Stelter said. "That's the advantage of having it here."
Many of the items on the menu are student favorites. While they won't be offered a hot breakfast, students will receive a hot lunch every day.
"Breakfast could be granola bars, cereal, snack pack, breakfast cookie, muffins or cinnamon rolls," Fruin said. "Lunches will be meals like hamburgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dishes like tator tot hot dish, and sloppy joes."
The new opportunity to serve all children in the community has also led to new partnerships, which in turn, means more kids will have access to nutritional food.
"It's also important to note that because of this Open Program, we've been able to partner with the YMCA, for example," Stelter said. "On the days that we're serving, they're actually going to bring their camp kids over here to provide them with lunch. Whereas before, the students would get a cold lunch, like sandwiches. But now we can partner with them and offer a hot lunch.
"So this program, I think, will open up some additional partnerships that we weren't able to have in the past with other summer programs."
Lamprecht said the new opportunity might be somewhat tricky in regards to trying to figure out how many participants there will be, especially at first, the new program should help provide an even stronger foundation for students.