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Columbia families depend on free summer meals due to high inflation

School districts across the Pine Belt are working to make sure no child goes hungry this summer.
Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 6:00 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Miss. (WDAM) - School districts across the Pine Belt are working to make sure no child goes hungry this summer. Now, some parents are depending on the free meals more this summer than before.

“When you don’t know what to feed the kids, you can easily just come to the school,” said Jessica Crawford, who’s a mother of three. “Free meals there. You’re not spending a lot of money or when, you know, how the food prices of everything is going up and all of that.”

Work goes on for cafeteria employees during the summer months despite an empty cafeteria.

“It’s very important, and I realize that,” said Tracey Long, Columbia School District’s child nutrition supervisor.

Columbia School District cafeteria employees prepare about 80 free meals a day for families to...
Columbia School District cafeteria employees prepare about 80 free meals a day for families to pick up.(wdam)

School meals play a big role for many families; however, when school is out, parents bear the brunt of more food in their shopping carts, causing high grocery bills, which are now even higher.

“With the prices going up, it’s really hard to feed three kids,” said Amy Dewitt.

“More gallons of milk because these babies love their chocolate milk,” said Jessica Crawford. “I’ve went through over six gallons just within a month.”

That’s a challenge Dewitt and Crawford, both moms of three, are facing this summer with high inflation; however, it’s a challenge the Columbia School District, like many others, has been working to defeat with its free summer meals.

“Each meal is well contained,” said Long. “A grain, a meat or meat alternate, two vegetables, two fruits and milk, and most of the meals are going to be a hot meal.”

Workers prepare both breakfast and lunch, serving about 80 meals a day. Long said “Each meal is a complete and full meal containing all of the components required from the USDA,”

Nearly 80 meals are prepped and served each day during the summer.
Nearly 80 meals are prepped and served each day during the summer.(wdam)

Families in the district don’t take the meals for granted.

“It helps, like, a lot,” said Crawford. “It’s very easy.”

“You know, without having to cook, I don’t have to clean up, and, so that’s a lot,” said Sarah Venable, a mom of five. “(With) the stress during the summer of having the kids home, that helps a lot.”

Whether families walk up or drive up, Long is proud the need for school meals is being met nearly year-round.

“I know it’s a big help to a lot of families, and I’m very thankful that we are able to provide two very healthy nutritious full meals to any child that’s in need in the community for free,” said Long.

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