Burke schools find funding for free lunch program

VALDESE, NC (WBTV) — Federal funding for free and reduced schools amid COVID-19 could end as early as this Friday. In Burke County, they secured a grant through the USDA to feed not just school children, but any adult at a reduced cost.

There are currently two bills before the North Carolina Legislature that would support the school lunch program. It is a program, especially now, that is badly needed in the county.

Most of the time at Valdese Elementary School is like trying to feed a small army. There are 20 classes to feed, 300 breakfasts, 400 lunches and they are planning over 700 meals for hungry bellies.

“It’s a very big need in our community,” said teacher Holly Russ.

Cafeteria workers say most of the trays they hand out are part of the free or discounted program that feeds the children.

“It’s just been a blessing.”

Tuesday Sigmond has two children enrolled in Valdese Elementary, four in total in the school system. She says the program in place helps ease the burden on struggling families.

“I think the last two years have really touched a lot of parents. And the added burden of feeding the children,” Sigmond said.

And that burden seems to be getting worse. With gas prices at record highs and some shortages at the grocery store, feeding your family puts a strain on many budgets.

“Three bucks, you can’t beat that anywhere.”

Nick Bobotas works in District Food Services. And says that with the program in place, it’s a boon for area residents.

“We are also a safety net for some members of the community,” he said.

During the pandemic, the federal government funded the free school meals program. This funding ends Friday. So the school system got a grant from the USDA to spend the summer. It provides free meals at two local schools for all children under eighteen and three dollars for any adult.

“I think the need speaks for itself.”

Mike Swan is the superintendent.

“We’re chasing them uphill right now without that food in their bellies.”

Parents we spoke to hoped that the North Carolina state legislature would pass these bills before time ran out.

“I have no idea how much money this saves our family, but I know it’s a huge fight,” he said Tuesday.

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Christy J. Olson