HELENA — Helena Public Schools’ Food Service program is preparing to transition to begin offering free summer meals. The transition caps an unprecedented school year that saw the district providing meals for students both in the classroom and at home.
There has been a lot of excitement around feeding kids during the course of the pandemic. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given schools the resources to provide free meals to all students, regardless of income or need. However, it also brought challenges.
“One million free meals since the pandemic started in March  and I never would have guessed that,” says Robert Worthy, Food Service Director for Helena Public Schools. “The problems with getting food here, to be able to purchase food we ask for, it's a lot of work. My people are tired. They've worked hard to get food for those kids who really need it."
Worthy says that in May of this year, they served over 130,000 meals to students and they won’t be slowing down going into summer starting on June 14th. They will provide free meals at 10 locations across the district to anyone under the age of 18. Kids will be able to pick multiple meals at a time including “Mega Meals” that include breakfast and lunch.
Worthy says these meals are available to any family who needs them.
“The design is to help every kid, help every family because it isn't just about the kids who have low income housing, it doesn't matter. Everybody's available,” says Worthy. “I have talked to several people who say 'you know what? This really just helps in general."
The free meals won’t end when students return to class in the fall of 2021. In April, the USDA announced that free meals will continue for students through the 2021-22 school year.
“So that means all children in school will be able to get free meals without having to say if they are free, reduced, or paid, or have any paperwork,” says Worthy.