The fall ritual of the beginning of classes in the Vermillion School District marked more than the beginning of a nine-month stretch of exposing local students to classroom time, assignments and extra-curricular activities.
It also guaranteed that every student had the opportunity to receive a nutritious, hot lunch every school day.
The school year is about the end. Classrooms throughout the district will soon be empty.
At Jolley Elementary, however, a hot lunch will continue to be served soon after the last day of school. To any child. At no cost.
"Since our elementary percentage of free and reduced (school lunches) is over 50 percent, we qualify to offer the food service in the summer," said Sheila Beermann, the school district's business manager. "Once we qualify, and have over 50 percent, then we can offer this program.
"Our trend in the elementary has been that we have seen that percentage go up," she said.
The midday meals will be served at Jolley Elementary, 224 S. University, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. each weekday, beginning June 4. This service will end on Aug. 3.
"This program is considered to be district-wide, so we could hold the meals at any one of our sites," Beermann said. "The middle school was an option, but we have construction going on over there this summer. Our next best option was Jolley, because we have some ovens over there."
The company that provides the district's food service, Lunchtime Solutions, helped district officials determine what site would work best for the program. "They will actually be serving the meals for us, because we have a contract with them for this service, but they also like that location.
"The swimming pool, library, those kinds of things, are nearby," she said.
The lunch that will be provided Monday through Friday will be much like a regular school lunch, except that fewer food options will be served.
"They will only have one option, while currently at the middle school, they have a variety of options," Beermann said. "During the summer, they (diners) will have one main entrée, and they'll get normally a vegetable and a fruit and salad bar. But instead of having two or three options to choose from for the main entrée, they will only have one.
"The meals will have all of the components that meet the federal guidelines," she said.
As an added plus, it appears that the Backpack Program will distribute items to children on Fridays at the meal site. The Backpack Program is a local effort designed to make sure that children receive food to eat during weekends when no formal school lunch service is available to them.
The school district's administrative staff has already taken action to make sure that the community's families are aware of the program.
"We have been notifying people – churches, day care providers, Head Start," Beermann told members of the Vermillion School Board at its meeting Monday night. "We have been contacting a lot of local entities. We're trying to do all of the marketing that we can."
"There are a lot of people talking about it," Matt Lavin, a member of the school board, said.
"We want to make sure that everybody is taken care of during the summer," said school board member Shannon Fairholm.
"I think it's a good program," said School Board President Mark Bottolfson. "And Lunchtime Solutions is excited, too, to see how this works. We want it to work."
The free lunch is provided to all children at no cost. Their families' income, which is usually a determining factor to determine who qualifies for free and reduced meals during the school year, is not a determining factor with this U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Youth do not need to pre-register to receive a meal. They simply need to show up at Jolley Elementary between 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. to be served.
The Summer Food Service Program is administered at the federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In South Dakota the Department of Education administers the program for local sponsors throughout the state.
The Summer Food Service Program provides meals to children in low-income areas when school is not in session. Throughout South Dakota, sponsors such as schools, private non-profit organization, and government entities participate in providing meals during school vacations.
To participate in the program, a sponsor must first determine if it serves a low-income area. The sponsor may have an area with 50 percent of the area's population qualified for free or reduced priced meals, which allows all children under the age of 18 eligible for free meals.
If a select group of low-income children participate in a program that is not in a low-income area, each child will qualify and if over 50 percent of those in the program qualify for free or reduced priced meals each month, all the children 18 years of age in attendance at the site may receive free meals.
The USDA program reimburses the school district for the costs of serving the meals. "This is totally federally-funded," Beermann said.
In South Dakota, the Child and Adult Nutrition Services of the state Department of Education is responsible for administering the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Services and Food Distribution Division programs. These programs furnish resources to eligible local agencies that provide food in meals or commodities to participants.
"It is completely free for any child 18 and younger," Beermann said. "They don't even have to be from our area. They can, for example, be from Sioux Falls. If someone is on vacation, staying here with a relative, those kids can come to the school and eat. It is open to any child 18 and younger."
The school district currently offers an after-school meal program, and the students who participate in it during the school year will also be taking part in this summer program. After the first week or so, the staff of Lunchtime Solutions should have a good idea of how many meals it will need to serve each day this summer, and will accordingly prepare the proper amount of food.
"We're contacting everybody we can think of, because everyone (of the proper age) can participate," she said. "If you babysit in your home, you can bring all of the kids that you care to the school for the meal."