School cafeterias to reopen today

By John McPhaul

Designated Education Secretary Elba Aponte Santos reminded the public Sunday that starting today, school cafeterias in Puerto Rico will begin to prepare and distribute food for all minors from age 1 up to 18 years old.

The resumption of the preparation and distribution of school lunches comes after the agency received in December a dispensation from the federal Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service to extend until June the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which is traditionally offered during the months of June and July, and that is extended to all children and youth on the island.

The extension was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, due to the holiday administrative recess in the academic calendar for school personnel, the SFSP was not offered from Dec. 23 to Jan. 8, the day they were supposed to report to their work centers.

Aponte Santos said in a written statement that all minors between one and 18 years old can benefit, whether or not they are enrolled in the public education system and it is not necessary to sign up on a list in advance.

“I urge all families to make the best use of this benefit,” she said. “With this program we help alleviate hunger and the difficulties faced by many families due to the pandemic. I remind you that it is not necessary to take minors [with you] to pick up food.”

As for the school lunch distribution schedules, Aponte Santos stressed that they are established by the school communities and recommended that parents communicate with school directors to find out more about them.

“I appreciate the commitment of food service professionals who work tirelessly for the nutrition of our children and youth,” the designated Education secretary said, noting that the agency will be conducting various alternatives in order to increase participation so that more minors can benefit. “Their commitment has been central to the management of this emergency and continues to be of vital importance as we come out of this crisis.”

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.

According to a press release from the agency, since May of last year, 2,844,923 lunch servings have been distributed from island school cafeterias.

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