During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided an unprecedented amount of flexibility to help public schools across America feed kids through its school lunch program.

At Detroit Lakes Public Schools, all enrolled students in grades K-12 are able to enjoy a hot, nutritious lunch every day school is in session, regardless of whether they are learning from home or attending classes at one of the district's four academic buildings.

According to Ryan Tangen, the school district's business manager, kids who are learning from home are able to come pick up these meals completely free of charge, thanks to the USDA extending the funding for its summer food service program through Dec. 31.

For kids who are attending school in person, meals are distributed by the district's food services staff just as they would have been in years past. Unlike in years past, however, the spaces in which these meals are being consumed are not always in a designated lunch area.

"Some meals are served in the classroom, some in the gym, some in the commons," Tangen said. "Every building is different."

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This is because construction is still ongoing in some of the spaces where meals are typically served, as well as the need for social distancing due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

"The idea is making sure they’re all safe spaces for the kids to eat in," Tangen said.

Families whose kids are learning from home must pre-register in order to be able to come pick up meals at the school, he added. Once they are signed up, there is an app known as Remind, available on the Food and Nutrition Services page at the school's website, www.dlschools.net, that will automatically remind families when the meals will be available for pickup.

Currently, the district asks families to register no later than Wednesday of the preceding week to be able to pick up meals for the following week. Meal packages include both breakfast and lunch for a full week. Distribution takes place on Fridays between 3:30 and 6 p.m. Pick-up location is the DLPS Central Kitchen on the campus of M State in Detroit Lakes. Please go to the north end of the M State campus, by the recycle dumpster area. There will be signs directing traffic to the right area.

Recently, the district also learned that the USDA is allowing any meals that are not picked up by enrolled students' families before 6 p.m. on Fridays to be distributed to non-enrolled students age 18 and under. Those students who would like to be notified of when these meals are available must also register on the school district website, however, as notifications are made through the same Remind app used by the enrolled students.

"We have a certain number of families that are enrolled for meals and sometimes, something happens where they can't pick them up ... then we have leftover meals on Fridays," Tangen said. In fact, sometimes as much as 25% of the meals aren't picked up by 6 p.m. on Fridays, he added.

"They're already made up and ready for people who want to come in and pick them up," Tangen said. The meals must be picked up by 7 p.m., however. Pickup location is the same as listed above.

Tangen noted that the district is also looking for some extra help in preparing and distributing meals for the program. Anyone who is interested can apply via the school district website.

For more information, send an email to foodservice@detlakes.k12.mn.us.