Summer food program will be offered

Published 9:49 am Saturday, May 19, 2018

By Mary Weikum

Director of Food and Nutrition Services

Austin Public Schools has a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced priced lunches during the school year, but hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation. Because of this, we are part of a federally-funded program which allows us to provide free breakfast and lunch to children in the community. The goal of the summer meals program is to make sure that kids have access to nutritious meals even when school is not in session.

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A question often asked is why all kids receive the meals for free, even those who don’t have financial need. The answer is that it is less expensive for organizations to manage the program when there is not a need based criteria. It also allows non-school organizations to partner with the Minnesota Department of Education to provide these services.

This program also helps students when they return to school in the fall. Studies have shown that kids that receive adequate nutrition over breaks have better starts to the school year. There is both less regression academically and fewer behavioral issues.

This year we will be offering free breakfast and lunch to all children ages 1-18 at the following sites:

•Austin High School

301 Third St. NW

Serving June 11-Aug. 17

•I.J. Holton Intermediate School

1800 Fourth Ave. SE

Serving June 11 – Aug. 24

Breakfast is available from 7:30 – 9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and there is no meal service on July 4.

To qualify for the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Program, families need to fall into specific income guidelines. To put this into perspective, a single parent with one child must gross less than $2,525 per month to qualify for free or reduced priced meals. That number is before taxes, insurance, transportation, housing and all other life expenses are accounted for. It is easy to see how school lunch money can become overwhelming. In Austin, there are many families whose income puts them outside these guidelines, but by such a small amount that paying for lunches is still a challenge.

To address this need, the Food and Nutrition Department at Austin Public Schools has launched the Lunch Tray Project, where interested citizens, businesses, and other entities can donate money to help pay for a year of lunches for students whose families fall into this group. Those families we are hoping to help are working families who, more than likely, do not qualify for any supportive services. They are families to whom this would be appreciated as a “helping hand,” one which would take one worry off their plate.

An average year of lunches cost $450 per student. To qualify for this program, we must have a free and reduced lunch application that has been denied based on income, and the amount of denial must be less than the $450 per student needed to pay for lunch. Each year, there are approximately 20-40 children who would be helped by this program. Our generous community has already donated enough to support approximately 16 of these students for the 2018-2019 school year. All money raised will go directly into student accounts, as there is no extra cost to administer this program.

We know having healthy meals improves academic success for students. Austin is part of program that allows us to provide all students with breakfast at no charge for this very reason. Now we’re hoping to help families whose income puts them just outside the guidelines to provide their students with healthy lunches as well. For questions or to donate, please contact Mary Weikum, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, at 507-460-1919 or

Remember, hungry kids don’t learn to their potential. Our goal is to take away as many barriers as we can for students. Please join us for lunch this summer and consider partnering with us on the Lunch Tray Project. It’s a great way to make a difference!