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Why Grab-And-Go Sites Might Start Asking For Barcodes Or Payment

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Even when there isn’t a pandemic, a lot of students depend on schools for healthy food.

So when school campuses around our area, state, and country first started to close in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, school nutrition providers quickly pivoted to serve grab-and-go meals to students in need.

Since March, schools and districts have served millions of these meals to kids in the area. Los Angeles Unified alone says it’s served nearly 55 million, as of Thursday.

They were able to do this because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school nutrition programs, waived some of its rules on who could receive these free meals. Instead of only offering food to students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the free food was available for any kid in need.

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But the flexibility that made that possible has an end date, and could expire right as the new school year gets started.

“It’s tough,” said Kristin Hilleman, chair of public policy and legislation at the California School Nutrition Association. “It’s like the pause button has been hit.”

Now, school nutrition providers have the difficult task of figuring out how to feed hungry students while also abiding by the rules.

For many districts and charters, that means they might have to ask for student names or IDs, check their eligibility, and maybe even charge students the reduced meal price (40 cents) or the full cost (around $3).

It also involves explaining to community members how –- and why –- things aren't the same.

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