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File / The Outlook One day a week, Tallapoosa County Schools will provide a week’s worth of breakfast and lunches in a drive-thru format for children ages 18 and under.

Families in the Tallapoosa County Schools system now have an easier and more private way to apply for free and reduced lunches with a web-based application process.

“Everybody used to have to do it with paper and it took a lot longer,” Tallapoosa County Schools child nutrition program (CNP) director Jenny Knox said. “We have 10 days to process the form after I get it. So this is just a lot better and a lot more people who want to apply but don’t want other people to know their applying may feel more comfortable.”

Knox strongly encourages all parents to turn in those applications as well because the percentage of eligible families determines the amount of state funding Tallapoosa County Schools receives.

“The more free people we have, it means more money based off your percentage of free and reduced eligibility,” Knox said. “The more we get, the better off we are.”

The other factor of the new web-based system is parents can put money into their kids’ accounts online, which they couldn’t previously do.

“Parents had to send money to school previously and not know if it’s going to make it there or get lost,” Knox said. “Now they can put money online and even transfer between accounts so families can share.”

In a press release Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will extend its free meal program to all children under the age of 18 until Dec. 31, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy and nutritious food,” U.S. secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue said in the release. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibilities to help schools feed kids through the school meal programs and today, we are also extending summer meal program flexibilities for as long as we can, legally and financially.”

Knox feels this will be extremely beneficial to the children of Tallapoosa County. This will include breakfasts and lunches.

“It was effective as of (Wednesday) but we still need people to apply just in case,” Knox said. “I am hoping (the USDA) will extend the waiver for everybody to have free lunch until the end of the school year but we never know.”

Knox is glad to see the USDA extend this program at least through the end of 2020 due to job loss and hungry students.

“People have lost jobs and not able to work like they want to and we didn’t want kids to have to go without,” Knox said. “There are kids with no food in the lunchroom who just watch everyone else eating.”

This unfortunate reality also will have a new solution due to Tallapoosa County’s nutrition program updates.

“If people don’t have money in their account, they can charge a meal,” Knox said. “There will be no alternative meal given; that’s embarrassing and we don’t want to go anything to hurt those kids.”

Operating under the summer feeding program model allows anybody in the community 18 years and under to qualify for free meals and any special needs person 18 years and up can come get free meals as well.

“I think what we’ll do starting next week is hand out boxes of meals for a week — so five breakfast and five lunches,” Knox said. “We will give them out at each school between 9 and 10 (a.m.) one day a week.”

Knox is seeking volunteers to help pass out these boxed meals, which will be done in a drive-thru style similar to this summer’s program.

To sign up for free and reduced lunches, visit family.titank12.com. For additional information or questions, contact Knox at 256-825-0746.

Amy Passaretti is a staff writer with the Alexander City Outlook.