URBANA – While schools across the country brace for the end of universal free lunches, Urbana public schools will continue to offer free meals to all students – at least until 2024.
Breakfast and lunch have been free for all in Urbana public schools since 2015.
“It really removes barriers,” says Urbana District 116 Chief Financial Officer Caty Roland. “Even if kids do not qualify for free and reduced lunch, there are still issues with hunger in those communities as well. Especially if you’re right on the threshold, it’s really a blessing.”
Because of high poverty levels among the student body, District 116 qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program.
Non-eligible schools across the country have been able to offer universal free meals thanks to waivers provided by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those waivers are set to end on June 30 unless reauthorized by Congress.
Free meals for all this summer
In addition to offering free meals to all students during the regular school year, Urbana District 116 serves meals to anyone 18 or younger during the summer.
“If there was a daycare across the street, they might come over to get out of the house,” Roland says.
Children and teenagers do not need to show proof that they are students to get a meal.
Champaign Unit 4 schools are also participating in the same Summer Meals Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The schools participating are Bottenfield Elementary, Centennial High School, Dr. Howard Elementary, Jefferson Middle School, Stratton Elementary and Westview Elementary. The times and dates of each site vary.
The free meals started Monday at all Urbana schools except Thomas Paine Elementary, where construction is taking place.
Urbana will offer free meals until July 15. That’s when summer school ends and Urbana food workers go on summer break.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.