O’NEILL, NE — More than 70,000 free meals have been served to the children and families of O’Neill and West Holt Public Schools since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The innovations that made that possible will help Lunchtime Solutions and the districts they serve continue to provide healthy meals to students into the new school year.

“We want to make sure that keeping children well-fed is one less worry for families in such a chaotic, stressful time,” said Tammy Coyle, vice president of operations for Lunchtime Solutions.

Based in North Sioux City,SD Lunchtime Solutions partners with 51 districts including O’Neill and West Holt to manage their food service programs, ranging in size from over 4,000 students to under 200. Those districts together have served 2.3 million meals to their students since mid-March. Since schools were closed across the Midwest, having access to free meals that are well-balanced and taste good has never been more important for children and their families, many of whom are still dealing with a loss of income, Coyle said.

“Almost all our schools needed and requested this service, not just the large ones,” Coyle said. “The fact that our staff have served more than 2 million meals since mid-March speaks to how much this has truly been needed.”

These “grab and go meals” were available because the USDA granted schools waivers through Aug. 31 to run the Summer Food Service Program, which is universally free for children ages 0-18. Lunchtime Solutions worked with their districts to offer innovative solutions that made picking up the meals more convenient and safe for families, including multiple meals provided at once. O’Neill served 48,807 total meals, providing seven breakfast and seven lunches each week with distribution on Mondays and Thursdays from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. West Holt served 21,762 total meals, providing five breakfast and five lunches each week with distribution on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“It truly was a team effort to turn our regular program served in the lunchroom into a 100 percent take-out-based option, almost overnight,” Coyle said.

Coming into the fall semester, Lunchtime Solutions has worked with its districts to provide serving solutions that fit each location’s needs, Coyle said. During lunch at both O’Neill and West Holt, students will have three entrée choices, served along with milk and unlimited fruit and veggies in individual portions rather than on the serving bar. Both districts have purchased scanners to limit students touching payment keypads. At O’Neill schools, breakfast will be served to elementary students in their classrooms.

“Our teams will continue to successfully adapt our programs as situations change," she said. “We could never do this without the dedicated staff who work these programs with the help of school district staff and volunteers. Providing nutritious meals to children who may otherwise not have them is very important to us, and we know it is to the schools and communities we serve, as well.”

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