Santa Fe Public School food workers
Santa Fe Public School food workers Dolores Rodella and Eva Dominguez distribute lunches and breakfasts at a bus stop during the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Around 70 meals were picked up by parents along a delivery route that extends into the county. Students in this school district are learning online only. A recent decision from the USDA has extended funding for free meals, regardless of a family’s income level. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

By CEDAR ATTANASIO AP/Report for America

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Funding for summer meal programs for children in New Mexico will be extended for the foreseeable future, state officials said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a waiver allowing the food programs to continue for as long as funding lasts for all children in the state, regardless of whether they qualify for income-based programs.

“This is a huge relief for many New Mexico families who might not qualify for free meals but are still facing hard times because of this pandemic,” said Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart. “Now feeding their children is one less worry.”

Most of the state’s 89 school districts have no in-person learning, though a few elementary schools started Tuesday. But all school districts have continued to offer free meals, delivering them along school routes or creating distribution sites where parents can pick them up.

On the nearly deserted campus of Capshaw High School in Santa Fe, workers on Wednesday loaded shopping bags laden with breakfasts and lunches into a yellow school bus as snow from an unseasonable overnight storm melted and dripped around the loading dock.

“This is going to be awful during winter,” said food server Eva Dominguez, clutching her jacket at the first stop — a parking lot — along the food delivery route.

The next stop was an apartment complex entrance followed by a trailer park. Parents walk or drive through taking home the bags of chicken sandwiches, cartons of milk, strawberries and other nutritious snacks.

Around 13 million meals have been picked up by families or delivered to them since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the governor’s office.

___

Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

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Free Lunches Continue for New Mexico Students