May 9, 2020 — The Siuslaw School District discussed whether to extend its emergency Mobile Food Service program into the summer or end the program in favor of the traditional Summer Meal program, which traditionally begins mid-June.
“What the chair is asking the board is whether it’s okay for the administration to continue this should they see a need over the summer,” Board Chair Guy Rosinbaum said. “That need could either be related to poverty or in keeping the disease spread down.”
The Mobile Food Service program began in mid-March after Gov. Kate Brown closed all Oregon schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In its first eight weeks, the local program has distributed 26,595 meals. In comparison, the Summer Meal program delivered 4,508 meals over nine weeks in 2019.
While the district can afford the additional costs needed to extend the current program, it is unknown if people will still need the program as the state begins to slowly reopen the economy.
To continue the service at current levels, the cost to the district for 12 weeks of summer would be roughly $55,000. However, the price could be reduced to roughly $24,000 if the state is able to reimburse some funds and the district uses vans instead of buses to cut down on fuel costs.
For the summer program, costs run below $10,000, if district costs are needed at all.
“The nice thing about the summer meal program is that it can be free,” said District Business Manager Kari Blake. “The more participation we can get, the more revenue that’s going to generate. It’s such a volatile fund based on staffing, food cost and participation.”
There are major differences between the programs, most notably who they serve. Both programs pledge to give lunch and breakfast to “all children 18 and under,” regardless of whether they are enrolled with the district. However, the Mobile Food program also gives food to adults in need as well. This was done to help families that were economically struggling during the shutdown.
The programs also differ in where and how they deliver food. The Summer Meals program travels to four locations Monday through Friday: Miller Park, Siuslaw High School, Siuslaw Elementary School and the Siuslaw Public Library. Lunch is delivered at all four sites, while only breakfast is provided at the elementary school location.
The current mobile program delivers to multiple locations via five bus routes, including the Florence Events Center, the Dunes City boat launch, the Florence First Baptist Church and Darlingtonia State Park. The buses also deliver to rural areas, including up North Fork Road, and have central stops in low-income neighborhoods in Florence.
Deliveries are made three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — with each stop providing lunch and breakfast to ensure provisions last throughout the week.
The multiple routes allow residents to follow stay-at-home orders while also providing access to families without reliable transportation that could keep them from reaching food locations.
The reason for the cost difference between the two programs is resources.
“Our reimbursement doesn’t cover our staffing costs and food costs, as both have been increasing as it is,” Blake said. “By adding additional staff and food meals, that’s where it starts to build into an impact for the district. … I’m also hoping the state and feds will recognize the situation that we’re all in and help further fund this.”
Both the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) have looked to address the issue of feeding children for the remainder of the school year with cash benefits for students “who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.” Students will receive the equivalent of $5.70 per normal school day for the months of March, April, May and June.
“Families who have experienced significant income loss may have become eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, and there is still some time to apply,” ODE said in a statement. Families are encouraged to apply online at www.ode.state.or.us/apps/FRLApp/Default.
However, that program does not give food to families or those ineligible for reduced price meals.
The school board ultimately decided to let Siuslaw School District administrators decide whether or not to continue the program.
“I would say, based on what we figured out, this would be a high impact for a pretty low cost in the big scheme of things,” Blake said. “I agree, it’s probably going to continue. And I hope [the state] continues to help us meet the needs of our students throughout the summer.”