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Some schools are lobbying to keep pandemic-era, universal free lunch. Universal free meals are already the reality in Urbana schools

In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, students fill their lunch trays at J.F.K Elementary School in Kingston, N.Y., where all meals are now free under the federal Community Eligibility Provision.

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.

For more information on where and when to find food in Urbana, visit this website. To learn about food in Champaign, click here.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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