A Whole New Meal Plan

Following a USDA mandate, North Allegheny’s implementation of free lunches for all students is already proving helpful for local families.


photo by D. Crickets

North Allegheny’s Dining Services Program and cafeteria staff are working hard to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students.

Quinn Volpe, Staff Writer

It’s a common adage in economics: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  But this fall, the notion is in need of revision.

Approximately 30 million students across the United States qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches, and this staggering number has continued to grow over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.   Following the United States Department of Agriculture’s decision to extend free meals for kids through December 31, 2020, the North Allegheny School District has decided to offer free meals for all students every day. As of September 21st, breakfast and lunch have been free for all students to pick up or obtain in person. 

Jay West, the director of North Allegheny Dining Services, said that all minors in the community qualify.

“Any child 18 years old and younger in the community qualifies,” he explained. “Communication is sent home weekly to each family as to how to sign up to receive take-home meals.”

Pickup of meals for consumption on remote learning days will be available every Wednesday from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM at five different locations, including HES, MES, IMS, NAI, and NASH. The pickup location can be selected on the order form. The deadline to submit an order form is every Friday at 12:00 PM.

Many school districts near North Allegheny are also beginning to offer free meals to their students enrolled in virtual or in-person classes. The Hempfield Area School District had a similar program in the spring, and they are continuing it because of the USDA’s decision.

North Allegheny has always believed that it would be a benefit for students to receive healthy meals for breakfast and lunch while learning from home or on site, and, with increased funding this year, they are better able to meet their goals for student wellness at a time when many families are at risk.

Free nutritionally balanced meals are a huge benefit to the growth and learning of the NA students

— Jay West

“The program was provided by the National School Lunch & Breakfast Program and is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education due to the COVID-19 pandemic conditions,” West said.

West thinks that sponsorship will benefit the entire student population in terms of physical and mental health, in addition to increasing the students’ capacity to learn throughout the school day. 

“Free nutritionally balanced meals are a huge benefit to the growth and learning of the NA students,” he added.

The school district had to make several changes in order to provide these meals. These changes necessitated a multitude of alterations, but the staff in the NA Dining Services Program have quickly caught on.

“Operationally, we had to make a lot of changes,” West said. “But we have become experts in this area, and our staff is pleased to provide this service.”

Community members are already putting the program to good use. 

One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “[The free lunches are] helpful because they save me time having to make extra trips to the store to buy food, and since they’re free, it’s just nice to take advantage of them for extra food.”

Any questions should be directed to [email protected].