SPARTA, NJ- Children in Sparta are entitled to a free lunch, regardless of whether or not they are registered in Sparta schools.  According to Sodexo manager Michael Levitt, the USDA has extended the free lunch program that ran over the summer. 

“Any child under the age of 18 qualifies, regardless of income,” Levitt said.  The United States Department of Agriculture or USDA responded to requests from the National School Nutrition Association to continue to make food available during the coronavirus health crisis.

Levitt said the USDA announced the program will continue “until December or until funds run out.” He said part of the rationale is that it reduces the interaction that comes with exchanging money. 

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“Sodexo has been a great community partner during their transition back into the district and their efforts to provide meals for our families during our school closures,” acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said. “We appreciate all of their efforts to provide delicious meals and excellent customer service.”  

In Sparta the food is prepared and available for pick up at the side parking lot of the high school.  No pre-ordering is necessary.  Meals can be picked up on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.Two meals will be picked up on Monday and Wednesday. With the school closed on September 28 pick up will be moved to the next day.

Families have a menu to select from for each day with a hot and two cold options. The hot options are packaged separately with heating instructions “so they don’t have a soggy mess,” Levitt said. All meals include a choice of milk; skim, 1% or fat free chocolate.

Parents can also purchase after school snacks for $1.50.  There are three options all include juice: mini pretzels, string cheese with apple and graham crackers with apple.

Students who are currently learning in school can have their meals delivered to their schools to be taken home so the students can eat as soon as they get home.

Children with food allergies or other issues can contact Levitt directly, as in the non-COVID-19 days and their dietary needs will be accommodated.  He said they can also make alternate pick up arrangements if the scheduled times are not possible.

They have focused on using unprocessed options where possible and thought has even gone into the packaging.

“We are generating so much packaging I am trying to keep it as eco-friendly as possible,” Levitt said.  The clamshells used for hot items, for example, are made from cane sugar.  “It is more expensive,” according to Levitt but “not all decisions can be based solely on cost.”

Sodexo’s global supply chains have resulted in sufficient supplies of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE as well as cleaning supplies and food items, Levitt said. 

The cafeteria “staff were welcomed back and scheduling was created with their needs in mind,” Levitt said.  Some could not come back because of childcare issues or health related issues within their families, but “everyone who wanted hours is getting them.”

The teachers are in the building teaching remotely from their empty classrooms and are able to making use of the food services as well, though their menus are “a little more sophisticated,” Levitt said.

Levitt can be reached at michael.levitt@sparta.org or 973-729-0736.

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