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story.lead_photo.caption Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

KINGDOM CITY — As of today, students at all four of Callaway County's public school districts can enjoy free breakfasts and lunches.

North Callaway R-1 announced it had been approved for a federal free meal program Friday, becoming the last of the four districts to do so.

"We're very glad we can offer it and take any sort of burden we can off our families, especially in uncertain economic times," said Nicole Buschmann, the district's assistant superintendent.

She said it took North Callaway a bit longer to apply for the program because "You have to meet a certain level of free and reduced lunch. We had to make sure we had all our paperwork back from families on that."

However, the program is postdated to Sept. 1, and the district plans to adjust the accounts of families who paid for meals in September, offering credits or working out other solutions as necessary.

Meals are also available for North Callaway students attending classes virtually and to children under the age of 18 who live within the district but don't attend North Callaway schools. Those families should call the school nearest or otherwise most accessible to them to make arrangements for meal pick-up.

Complete breakfast and lunch trays are free, while a la carte items, such as extra cartons of milk or additional entrees, will still cost money.

The free meals will continue through Dec. 31 or whenever funding runs out.

South Callaway R-2, Fulton Public Schools and New Bloomfield R-3 all announced free meals for students in September.

Local schools have been able to offer free meals for reasons tied to the pandemic. Just after the fall semester began, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was extending the Seamless Summer Option and the Summer Food Service Program — programs that in a typical year only provide meals in the summer, and are only accessible by school districts where large portions of the student body qualify for free and reduced lunch.

North Callaway participates in the Summer Food Service Program each year.

"As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food. 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," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in an Aug. 31 news release.

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