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School lunches still being served, but officials watch effects of shutdown

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Dorothy Bogues serves lunches to students in the Camden Middle School cafeteria, Friday. So far, there have been no issues related to the federal school lunch program as a result of the shutdown.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The cinnamon-glazed carrots that found their way onto many students’ lunch plates at Camden Middle School Friday were made from carrots provided to the school district through the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and the continued availability of those USDA commodities to schools is in question as the government shutdown grinds on.

For now, area school districts are not seeing a significant impact from the federal government shutdown on school lunch and breakfast programs. But child nutrition directors are watching federal funds closely in case the situation changes.

An immediate impact appears unlikely.

Michelle Maddox, a spokeswoman for the Edenton-Chowan Public Schools, said the school district received word from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and USDA indicating Food and Nutrition Services has secured additional funding which "can support operations at normal levels well into the month of March."

As a result, Maddox said, “we have not altered our menu planning meal offerings. We will continue to provide healthy and nutritional meals that meet the guidelines of the state and federal government.”

Currituck County Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik said Currituck, too, is continuing typical school nutrition operations.

Andrea Lee, child nutrition director for Camden County Schools, said the current outlook is OK, but school officials are watching the shutdown closely.

“At this time we have not been affected by the federal government shutdown,” Lee said. “NCDPI has informed us that we are currently going to receive our USDA reimbursement and we have not made any changes to the foods that we are offering. The impact on these areas may change if the shutdown continues.”

At the same time, Camden has sought to get the word out to families affected by federal shutdown-related furloughs that they may file an application for free or reduced lunch for their child.

Lee said only a few new applications have been filed so far.

“It’s just starting, so we haven’t had a lot of people applying yet,” Lee said. “But we hope the families that are affected will apply. We want to be able to feed the kids. But so far we have only had a few applications to come in.”

The effect of the shutdown on the child nutrition program’s bottom line will become clearer in two to three weeks, as it comes time for the school district to receive its federal reimbursement based on meals served this month.

Lee said the district files for federal reimbursement at the end of the month or the very beginning of the following month, and generally receives the money in about 10 days.

So by the second week of February the program should know more about the federal funding outlook, she said.

Lee said about 25 percent of the food served comes to the school district as commodities shipped directly by USDA. On Wednesday one of the meal choices at Camden Middle School included carrots that had been supplied through the USDA commodities program.

“We don’t know what is to come,” Lee said, explaining there is some uncertainty right now regarding federal reimbursements and the USDA commodities.

If you recall school lunches that were basically the same from week to week — meatloaf on Monday, vegetable soup on Tuesday, and so on — the current program strives for a bit more variety but also tries to take advantage of the benefits of advanced planning by having a rotation that’s based on a roughly three-week schedule.

“We try to be on a consistent schedule,” Lee said.

But she said the menu is affected somewhat by what USDA commodities are available.

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