LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools students are preparing to hit the books again next week. The school year will start with virtual learning, and there will be significant changes to the lunch program.
The school district announced Monday that the federal waiver allowing JCPS to serve free meals to any child under the age of 18 would no longer apply once class is back in session. Since March, the district has provided more than 2 million breakfast and lunch meals to children in Jefferson County, whether or not they were registered students.
“We've had a lot of grandparents that have really appreciated the program, because they've had their grandkids," Rhonda Quaack said as she was putting lunch meals together for the line forming outside Seneca High School. "Parents have been home without work. So it's really helped people a lot."
However, starting Tuesday, a child must be a JCPS student and must qualify for free or reduced meals. When the announcement was made, district leaders said they feared this could result in thousands of children potentially going hungry.
“I have families that come in here that have four to five kids," said Emily Singleton, a cafeteria assistant at Seneca High School. "But on Tuesday, they're only going to get three to four meals."
Singleton's typical lunch lady duties went out the window in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but her team is still constantly working to make sure every single child coming through their line is fed.
"To us, it's special, because you get the same people every day. So you get to know the families," she said. "It's a wonderful feeling when the kids tell you 'thank you.' And some of the kids, they look at you and tell you you're the best. And some of these kids, this is the only meal they get.
"Some, they depend on these meals."
Singleton said it’s going to hurt when she has to refuse meals starting next week to children that are not registered students. And she’s worried about her own family, too.
"My sister keeps my child that is not registered as a JCPS student but has been dependent on this. It's helped her a lot," she said. "Because she has four, and they all go to JCPS. So when she rolls up here next Tuesday, my child will not get a meal, but her children will get a meal. So it hurts. It hurts very badly."
The mother said she prays every day that another waiver and more funding is approved so that they do not have to change their current operation.
"I wouldn't want to turn a child away from a meal," Singleton said. "That would just hurt."
Quaack is working alongside Singleton, handing out one meal after another to each car that pulls up. Her family has also benefited from the JCPS meals. Quaack started taking care of her granddaughter, who is from Hardin County, at the start of the pandemic. But her granddaughter will no longer qualify starting next week, so the family is forced to come up with a backup plan when means are tight.
Quaack started to choke up and cry at the thought of having to say “no” to any child needing a meal.
“How am I going to tell a child, you know, your sister can eat because she's a student in Jefferson County, but you can't have anything?" she said. "It's going to make it tough."
District leaders said there is hope a new federal waiver will still be passed, but it is unlikely to happen before school starts Tuesday.
“Please, reach out and tell your congressman," Quaack said. "Tell them we're going to have kids out here that are going to be hungry. I don't know what else to do. We're doing everything we can to fight for these students that don’t qualify. We're giving it all we can. We're trying to feed ya. We're really trying."
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