WENATCHEE — Free lunches returned to Wenatchee and Eastmont schools today and will continue at least through the end of December.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday ruled that schools that had been offering summer meal programs could keep using federal funds to serve free meals for children up through 18 years old through the end of the year.

Without the extension, with the start of the school year, districts had to return to previously waived rules requiring families either to pay for meals or apply for free or reduced lunch status.

Wenatchee and Eastmont families started dealing with the extra paperwork, which included showing proof of enrollment for meal pickup, when school started Wednesday.

As of today, those complications disappeared. The districts were able to switch gears in a day.

“We were hoping this action would be taken by the feds and when the announcement came out yesterday we worked with OSPI on guidance,” Wenatchee School District spokeswoman Diana Haglund said today. “It turns out because we were authorized for the summer meals program during the spring we were authorized to immediately transition back to that model. Basically, we are removing the authorization piece — making sure students are enrolled, have a meal application on file or meals account balance. We can now feed all kids 0-18, no questions asked.”

Eastmont schools posted the news on its Facebook page Tuesday morning, announcing the free meals would be provided.

“Children do not need to be an Eastmont student and student identification is not required,” the post reads. “Parents may continue to pick up meals for children in their household.”

Other districts are making the switch as well.

The state also ruled last week that districts will be allowed to use transportation funds to distribute meals to outlying areas, as had been offered in the spring. Figuring out that schedule will take some time, but is expected in the next few weeks, Haglund said.

“This is a huge relief for our schools and the families we serve,” Wenatchee Superintendent Paul Gordon said. “Many of our families who might not qualify for free meals are still struggling. With this decision, they have one less thing to worry about and can focus on supporting their children during remote learning.”

The change is expected to increase meal counts.

Last week, about 300 meals a day were served, Haglund said.

“We hope to return that to last spring’s count of 2,000 meals a day,” she said.

Beginning Tuesday and each school day, Wenatchee schools’ food service department will distribute pre-packaged breakfast and lunch 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at:

  • Columbia Elementary
  • Lewis & Clark Elementary
  • Lincoln Elementary
  • Mission View Elementary
  • Newbery Elementary
  • Sunnyslope Elementary
  • Washington Elementary
  • Orchard Middle School
  • Wenatchee High School

Meals will be distributed from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. at Pioneer and Foothills middle school.

At Eastmont, meals can be picked up between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at Lee and Rock Island elementary schools, Eastmont Junior High and Clovis Point Intermediate, and from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Eastmont Junior High.