Iowa City schools allow anyone under 18 to receive free meals amid COVID-19 cancellation

Any person under the age of 18 can currently receive free meals from schools in the Iowa City Community School District, regardless of what school they attend or if they are part of the Free and Reduced Meal program.


Jenna Galligan

Signs offering directions for meal pickup are seen at City High School on Sunday, April 26, 2020.

Will Fineman, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District is allowing any person under the age of 18 years old to receive free meals from its schools, which are distributing food to students amid community spread of the novel coronavirus.

To benefit from this program, a student or child does not have to be listed on the Free and Reduced Meal Program, nor does it matter what school the student usually attends, according to the school district website. Parents, guardians, or caregivers can pick up one of the “Grab and Go” meals without the child being present as well.

Alison Demory, director of nutrition services for Iowa City schools, compared the system to a summer-meal situation but with more flexibility.

“Typically, in the summer students eat these meals on-site, and students have to be there to take the meal,” Demory said. “With this current situation, because we are trying to social distance, we allow students to take meals off-site, and the students now do not have to be in the cars when they pick them up.”

Demory said instead of the “offer v. serve” system the district uses in the summer, where students are only required to take three food groups, it is now using a unitized program where students are given all five food groups.

“Most of the feedback that we are getting is very positive,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said. “Our goal truly was to try to make sure that even though every child was in a different position from kindergarten to high-school senior, we would create a system that would have enough flexibility that it would meet everyone’s needs for the most part.”

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When the U.S. Department of Agriculture told the district that schools could provide meals to all kids under age 18, regardless of whether they attend school in the district, Murley said it didn’t take any debate to decide the district was going to feed everybody that it could.

“We wanted to understand the USDA regulations and then once we knew what they were, we wanted to provide as much latitude as we could,” Murley said. “It made it a lot easier for the people working the front lines because if you’re out there handing out meals, we wanted to make sure that you have to do as little fact-checking as possible.”

Other school districts in Iowa are also expanding their grab-and-go meals to all children under age 18. Clear Creek Amana, Cedar Rapids, Highland, and Lonetree are some of the many school districts with similar programs for their community.

“A lot of schools in Iowa are doing it, and that actually creates some other challenges for us in terms of menus because our many school districts are vying for the same food products,” Demory said.

Demory said this high demand for the same food products has forced the school district to be creative with what food it serves.

“Up until this point, we have done all cold items like sandwiches, wraps, yogurt, and those kinds of things,” Demory said. “We are going to add in some ‘heat and eat’ items like a hamburger which is fully cooked, but they will just have to take it home and heat it up.”

Chace Ramey, chief operating officer for Iowa City schools, said in an email to The Daily Iowan that making this system work is a testament to the hard work of the district’s nutrition-services team.

“We have an amazing nutrition-services team that has worked daily to make this program successful and ensure that children are receiving meals,” Ramey said. “They go above and beyond each day for students and the district is fortunate to have such a dedicated team of employees.”