lunch van

Jon Andreassi/Observer-Reporter

Trista Boyes, assistant food service manager at Keystone Oaks, and Kevin Lloyd, food service director, at the district’s free lunch location at the Dormont Recreation Center

Keystone Oaks School District recently started its free summer lunch program, though a return to pre-pandemic restrictions means they may not be able to keep up its five locations.

The program is funded through both state and federal government. During the height of the pandemic, families were able to pre-order meals, take them to go and pick up for multiple days.

“If we play by their rules and give out free meals to kids 18 and under, then they subsidize our program,” said Kevin Lloyd, food service director at Keystone Oaks. “The kids are supposed to eat the meals on site, and they get one meal per day.”

However, Lloyd is hopeful this will soon no longer be the case. President Joe Biden signed the Keep Kids Fed Act on June 25, and the bill extends some of the flexibilities that had lapsed, including grab and go meals. School districts can seek waivers on the current restrictions.

It also provides additional reimbursements to schools for the meals.

Even with the extension of pandemic rules, the district still needs participation to keep the program running.

The number of people being served by this program has dropped substantially, which could mean having to close a location if they aren’t giving away enough meals. According to Lloyd, it is made more difficult by the fact they aren’t operated by volunteers.

“So we have the handicap of wages on top of the other costs, like fuel costs are way up. We reach a point where if we don’t give away a certain amount of meals every day, we’re actually losing money. It’s a nonprofit, we’re not supposed to make money, obviously, but we need to cover our costs,” Lloyd said.

In 2020, they were giving away 400 to 500 meals some days, according to Lloyd. Now, giving out 200 is rare. However, Lloyd said it is an apples to oranges comparison.

“The environment was so different in the last two years with COVID. People were needier,” Lloyd said. “So families were working together to bundle meals for families for a whole block of people, because they didn’t want to leave the house and go out in public.”

Getting kids to take advantage of the program with the restrictions has still been a challenge.

“They’re cold deli sandwiches, fruits, vegetables and milk. Now, they’re healthy and nutritious and most kids love them, but they’re not exciting either. And to be told they have to sit out in the sun and eat this lunch takes away the attractiveness of it,” Lloyd said.

Keystone Oaks offers free lunches at Alvern Gardens in Castle Shannon from 11:15 a.m. to noon; Hamilton Park in Castle Shannon from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Myrtle Avenue Elementary School from 12:15 to 1 p.m.; Dormont Recreation Center from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and Keystone Oaks High School from 11 a.m. to noon.

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