SISD, DISD continue free lunches for 2021-2022

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A group of students at Mayes Elementary enjoy lunch in this photo from 2019. Both Sherman and Denison Independent School Districts announced that they will provide free lunch and breakfast to all students for the 2021-2022 school year.

For the second year in a row, Sherman and Denison Independent School districts will provide free school meals for all students for the upcoming school year. 

SISD Food Service Department announced last week that it will be continuing its free summer meal program through the school year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Randy Reid, DISD assistant superintendent for business services, confirmed that Denison will also receive the same support next year and will continue to be able to provide free lunches. The regular summer feeding program will end the day before school starts, meaning that there will not be down time where students will be unable to get meals.

The school lunch program comes as an extension of COVID-19 relief funding that has been in place since 2020. This will mark the second year that the districts utilized the USDA programs to provide free meals for all students.

"I think it will be such a wonderful benefit for our students," SISD Food Service Director Mandy Stephens said. "Even if a student brings in their lunch on a regular basis, I think it will help all of our families. I think it will be a wonderful benefit."

The relief will effectively extend support through summer feed programs by continuing them through the school year.

The program will allow a student to get one free school breakfast and lunch each school day. The program will not include a la carte items and will only apply to the standard breakfast and lunch options.

“The reason we took this benefit was because it could help every student in Sherman ISD,” Stephens said in 2020. “We could offer a free breakfast and a free lunch to every student regardless of all grade or meal status.”

While the district has been able to offer free meals to some students in recent years, it wasn't until the district received the COVID-19 relief from the USDA last year that it was able to offer it to all students. Prior to that, the district was only eligible to offer free meals to elementary students.

"Here and now, the USDA has given us a blanket and effectively said if you are going to serve under this program it will go back to the way it was before where only elementary would be free, or you can stay where you are now under the Seamless Summer Option," Stephens said.

There are no eligibility requirements for the free meals, but students must fill out socio-economic forms that are included in enrollment paperwork. As such, Stephens said she does not anticipate any difficulties in getting students included in the program.

Stephens estimated that the district currently provides about 8,600 meals per day.

"It (the program) ensures every kid gets a meal every day if they want one," Reid said. "I know a lot of parents have suffered due to the pandemic economically, so it is a great support for them."