Education Dept. will continue to provide ‘to go’ lunches

By John McPhaul

The Department of Education will continue to provide lunch services in school cafeterias, which will benefit some 50,000 students on the island, Education Secretary Eligio Hernández Pérez announced Wednesday.

In this way, families that receive the daily “to go” lunches offered by the school cafeterias will be able to continue receiving them until June 2021, after Education receives permission to extend assistance to minors between one and 18 years of age across Puerto Rico, Hernández Pérez said in a written communication.

The continued availability of school lunches is the result of the federal Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services program granting a waiver to extend the Summer Food Services Program, which is traditionally offered during June and July, to all children and young people on the island in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally the program was to run until Dec. 31, but it was extended until June.

“We appreciate and welcome the approval of continued service by the federal government,” said Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced. “We urge all families with children between one and 18 years of age to continue to take advantage of the ‘to go’ lunch.”

On a daily basis, more than 50,000 minors receive a ration of food made by school cafeteria employees and selected from a balanced menu prepared by Education Department nutritionists.

Since May, when distribution of “to go” lunches began, more than 5.2 million meals have been served to children ages one to 18.

“We welcome this news that will give continuity to the lunch service from which many families of students in the public system and throughout the island have benefited in these difficult times due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hernández Pérez said.

The Education chief noted that to receive food, families do not have to register in advance, or have minors enrolled in the public education system. They just have to go to the school lunchroom closest to their residence and pick it up. The schedules are established by the school communities, so the department recommends contacting school directors to inquire about pickup times.

Hernández Pérez added that, as happens every year and as established in the academic calendar, there will be an administrative recess for school personnel during the holiday season. This includes food service workers, so there will be no “to go” service from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8. Service will resume on Monday, Jan. 11, the day the second semester starts.

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