School district making changes to weekend backpack meal program

For many children in Humboldt County, attending school provides not only an opportunity to but something to eat. The free breakfast or lunch provided at school may be the only meals they eat throughout the day.

However, the district is facing challenges in its backpack meal program. District Superintendent Dr. David Jensen announced at the July 23 board meeting that Winnemucca Food Bank and Catholic Charities have combined forces and they have told the district that they are no longer going to be supporting the backpack program.

Jensen said the backpack meal program provided 600 backpacks per weekend to at-risk students so they would have food over the weekends. 

“We reached out to the Nevada Division of Agriculture who does our free and reduced lunch and confirmed that is not eligible under reimbursable rates,” Jensen said. 

In a recent email, Jensen wrote, “We will start the school year off with the backpack program at the same level we concluded last year. During the year, we will start the process of transitioning to where there will be a "food pantry" at certain school locations which will be the primary source of food disbursement. We have not yet identified the schools as we continue to work on understanding what it would look like to implement. Ultimately, we anticipate a "hybrid" program which will have backpacks at some schools and food pantry at others as we close out the year.”

In an update at the August 27 board meeting, Jensen told the board members he and the district’s Food Service Director Laura Jensen had spoken to officials from the local food bank and Catholic Charities. “What they're asking us to do is to go to food pantries at our schools,” he said. “Our issue was we're not exactly sure what that means, what it looks like, [or] what it would require.”

Jensen said the district will be looking to Washoe County’s food pantry program. However, Jensen said the district’s main issue is locating space for a centralized location. McDermitt schools will have a centralized pantry for families in need, he said. 

Moving forward, Jensen said the district will roll out pilot programs perhaps beginning with Winnemucca Junior High School because the school does not currently participate in the backpack program. 

This change comes on the heels of recently proposed regulation changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which could mean some students will no longer automatically receive free school meals. If the rule is passed as written, SNAP recipients with a household income 185-200% of the federal poverty level (for example, a family of four with a household income of $47,637 to $51,500) will lose their SNAP benefits.

If the affected SNAP recipients are not receiving other forms of public assistance in Nevada that automatically qualify them for school meals, they will receive a school meal application to determine their eligibility for free or reduced-priced meal programs. 

According to an NDA report released in May 2019, nearly 60 percent of students in Nevada were on free and reduced lunch last year with 49% of the schools in Humboldt County participating in the program.