Sen. Gillibrand announces extension of USDA meal waivers at Foodlink Summer Meals site

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Foodlink and other elected officials on Thursday, July 7, to announce the passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which will extend all pandemic school meal waivers and other flexibilities through the summer, making it easier and more affordable for schools and other organizations to provide free and healthy meals to students in need.

Gillibrand was joined by Congressman Joe Morelle, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans, President & CEO of the YMCA of Greater Rochester George Romell, Foodlink Chief Operating & Financial Officer Terra Keller, and Assemblywoman Sarah Clark.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, putting millions of kids at risk of losing access to free school meals, we took decisive action to cut red tape and help schools continue to feed every student in need,” Gillibrand said. “Now, with school summer break already underway and the cost of food and other necessities skyrocketing, we have to continue doing everything we can to help school and other summer meal providers. That’s why I’m proud that Congress heeded my call to put kids ahead of bureaucracy and extend pandemic-era flexibilities by passing the Keep Kids Fed Act. I’ll keep fighting in Congress to make sure every child in New York always knows where their next meal is coming from.”

Foodlink is a member of the Summer Meals Partnership of Rochester, which implements the Summer Meals program in an effort to ensure that every child in the City of Rochester has access to free and healthy meals. Food insecurity increases during the summer months when families no longer have access to school meals and face the burden of providing two extra meals per child. The problem is more severe in Rochester, where the child poverty rate is among the highest in the nation.

Congress extended the meal waivers, which includes:

  • Schools and non-profits can distribute meals at more locations, not simply in areas with high poverty rates.
  • The option for “grab-and-go” meals, instead of requiring kids to eat on site, which can serve as an inconvenience and deterrent for many.
  • Families can pick up multiple meals at once, rather than returning home and coming back to site during designated meal times.

 

The waivers were originally created as part of the pandemic relief at the start of 2020.

“It’s been abundantly clear during the pandemic that reducing barriers to accessing healthy school meals is simply the right thing to do – and an issue that should garner bipartisan support,” said Julia Tedesco, President & CEO of Foodlink. “We are pleased to see the passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act, which allows our Community Kitchen team to work with our partner sites, such as YMCAs and R-Centers, to explore more ways we can get more meals to children via grab-and-go and mobile distribution models. It’s our hope that, eventually, our elected leaders will push for these waivers to become permanent so that Rochester children have greater access to healthy food – especially during these difficult summer months.”

Prior to the extension, when the future of waivers was uncertain, Foodlink took matters in its own hands and self-funded a mobile meals initiative to provide grab-and go options for kids in neighborhoods where traditional sites were lacking. In the first couple weeks of summer, approximately 250 meals were distributed each day using this method, primarily in the Beechwood, Maplewood and Lyell-Otis neighborhoods. In previous years during the pandemic, when waivers were known and available, Foodlink partnered with RTS for the same initiative to distribute approximately 40,000 extra meals in July and August.

With the news of the Keep Kids Fed Act getting passed, Foodlink has now started to re-engage with meal sites and other community partners, such as YMCAs, R-centers and the city school district, to determine how to get more meals out to Rochester children.

For a current list of sites, please visit www.SummerMealsROC.org. Foodlink and its partners will update that map with more information as it becomes available.

Robert Johnson is one of Foodlink’s kitchen drivers, and helps our mobile meals initiative by distributing approximately 250 meals daily!

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