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Now Is the Time for CEP

It’s been one heck of a year, but school nutrition directors and staff are some of the most resilient, determined, unflappable bunch there is. As they continue to serve meals in new and innovative ways, federal nutrition waivers have reduced one burden on them for this year: collecting lunch money.

Free school meals for all students have increased access during a difficult time and reduced administrative and logistical burdens while schools are appropriately focused on keeping kids safe.

Thanks to USDA’s extended Federal nutrition waivers, operating on SSO next school year will ensure that student’s nationwide will continue to have access to free meals. These waivers are a step in the right direction towards offering Universal School Meals and guaranteeing that the support children received during the pandemic will continue for years to come.

Though the 2022-2023 school year seems far away, it’s not too soon to begin considering how to continue the free meal benefit to students in your school district. Luckily, we have a tool in our back pockets! Starting the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in your district would wipe out this issue and continue the increased access to school meals for all students. CEP allows all students to eat school meals for free, regardless of income. A school or district’s reimbursement rate is determined by the percentage of students identified as SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid users, foster kids, students experiencing homelessness, or in other qualifying groups (ISP).

There are a TON of CEP benefits, such as no tracking down school meal debt payments, less work for school nutrition staff when students are going through the lunch line, greater school meal participation, and if the numbers stack up, a higher reimbursement!

From our friends at No Kid Hungry, here are a few reasons why your school district should begin considering CEP TODAY:

  • Applying for CEP now is a no-risk opportunity to lock in your current ISPs, and high reimbursement rates, through SY 24-25. Rates in many districts are higher than ever before due to the pandemic and record SNAP enrollments.
  • Even though you’ll be operating SSO this year, you can lock in your current ISPs and ability to serve universal free meals for the following 3 school years (SY22-23 through SY24-25).
  • If your ISPs continue to increase next year, then you can reapply and lock in higher rates next year. However, it’s more likely that your ISPs will go down next year, as the economy rebounds.
  • If you don’t apply for CEP this year, and your ISPs decrease next year, then it will have been a missed opportunity to lock in the current peak reimbursement rates.
  • Another benefit of electing CEP now is that all students in a CEP school are eligible for valuable P-EBT food benefits. If schools continue to be impacted by the pandemic, P-EBT benefits may be extended into the 21-22 School Year, and all of the students in your CEP schools would receive this important benefit.

USDA extended the CEP application deadline to September 30. If you have the capacity to run your numbers and apply by the end of September, we recommend doing so. If your capacity is limited, please reach out – we are happy to help!

If you are interested in learning more about how CEP could benefit your school or district, check out these resources and feel free to reach out to riseandshineillinois@gcfd.org for additional support.

CEP Resources

Overview of the CEP Evaluation and Application Module (Recorded Webinar by ISBE)

Community Eligibility Provision: Serving free meals to all students, regardless of income (Webpage by No Kid Hungry Center of Best Practices)

CEP Evaluation & Application Module (Fact Sheet by ISBE)

MealsCount USDA CEP Grouping Tool (Tool by MealsCount)

Math, Science, and Breakfast?

Math, Science, and Breakfast?

Let’s Use Breakfast as a Learning Opportunity

By Merav Benson

Merav Benson is a Chicago parent who combines a background in food supply chain strategy and founder of a meal delivery business to tackle an even bigger challenge: raising healthy eaters. Merav is always seeking opportunities to use food to learn about people and places in ways that fit into our busy lives. She can be reached at merav_benson@yahoo.com.

All my kids learned their colors while helping me do the laundry. I would ask them to find me the red shirt, the blue pants. Then, we moved on to learning to find matching pairs of socks. Even basic tasks in life present learning opportunities for kids, and breakfast is no different.

Mealtime is so much more than just eating. It’s an opportunity to connect with one another as well as to try different foods, textures and flavors. Of course, some are more successful than others and we all know kids can be fickle. But over time, my kids have grown to become much more willing to try new foods and flavors.

Here are some of the areas we can all focus on at mealtime, at home or at school, that will enhance our kids’ meals and minds:

  • Make meals part of the learning

Is Presidents Day coming up? What was a favorite food of a former President? Are the kids learning about Chicago’s history? Eat something that is local to the Chicago area or to the Midwest. Adding the food element to the curriculum will allow kids to get some better context about what they are learning and be more inclined to try new things.

  • Use food to learn more about one another

Where are kids in the class from originally? Where were their grandparents from? Use meals to learn about our families and roots. If there are kids from India, make naan part of the meal. It’s a simple, wholesome bread that appeals to lots of kids’ tastes. If there are kids from the Middle East, try a plain hummus. Dipping is fun and hummus is healthy and delicious! My pickiest daughter loves it!

  • Involving kids in the planning/prep

Give kids a role in planning/prepping food choices as much as possible. Perhaps a student or group of students rotate onto a meal planning committee. If one of their peers was part of the planning, more kids will participate!

  • Use food to learn about the world

Traveling with kids can be expensive and difficult, but experiencing other parts of the world’s cuisines is much simpler! Choose a country of the world as a theme and include an element from their cuisine once a month. Choose a student to learn something to share about the country and show where it is on the map. Suddenly, shapes on a map come alive with tastes!

  • Go beyond “Yuck”! or “Yum”!

There are so many elements to food and how we experience it. Introduce kids to some of these elements (i.e. smell, taste, texture) so that they can learn to express what they like or don’t like about the food. Instead of tasting something and saying “Ewwww”, they can learn to say “I liked how it smelled, but I thought it was too salty when I tasted it.”

Hopefully there are some ideas that can be applied in your home or classroom. Thinking about all the possibilities and wonderful benefits of mealtime will encourage trying new foods and healthy habits.

Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT): What You Need to Know

Thanks to the dedicated child nutrition advocates for laying out the who, what, when, and how of P-EBT.

We encourage all school administrators and Food Service Directors to share this resource with their community to help spread the word about P-EBT!

Click below for a printable version of the FAQ sheet
English
Spanish

What are P-EBT food benefits?
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) provides benefits to certain children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches under the National School Lunch Act. P-EBT is a temporary food benefit program operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. P-EBT only provides benefits for days that students lack access to an in-school lunch. P-EBT provides $6.82 per each school day that children are engaged in remote learning.

Who is eligible for P-EBT benefits?
Your child and your school must meet certain criteria to be eligible for P-EBT:

Your Child:

  • Must be enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals at a school operating the National School Lunch Program; OR,
  • Must be enrolled in a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision-2 school, which offers breakfast and lunch free to all students; AND,
  • Must have not had access to an in-school lunch at least some days of the month

Your School:

  • Must operate the National School Lunch Program; AND,
  • Must have been closed or operating at reduced capacity at least 5 consecutive days at some point during the 2020-2021 School Year.

How are P-EBT benefits issued? Do I need to apply?
If your child is already enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals AND your address is up-to-date:

  • Your family will get P-EBT automatically. Each child will receive their own card.
  • Cards will be mailed to you in March.
  • Cards will arrive in an unmarked envelope so please be on the lookout.
  • Families should hold onto their P-EBT card(s) because future benefits will be loaded onto the same card.

If you are new to a school district, if your child did not receive free or reduced-price meals last school year, OR if you recently moved:

  • You must fill out an application for free or reduced-price school meals by contacting your school.

When will P-EBT benefits be issued?
Benefits will be issued for August 2020 through June 2021 for the days that schools have been closed during the 2020-2021 school year.

  • In March, families will receive a distribution for the months of August 2020 through December 2020.
  • In April, families will receive a distribution for January 2021 through February.
  • Beginning in May, families will receive a monthly benefit for the remainder of the school year.

Benefits will be issued between the 11th and the 22nd of each month going by the first letter of the student’s last name. Students’ benefits will be issued on the same day in subsequent months so your family can plan your food budget.

I am worried about receiving P-EBT because of my immigration status. Will getting this benefit count in a public charge test?
No. It is important to know that P-EBT will not count in a public charge test. All students are eligible regardless of immigration status. Visit ProtectingImmigrantFamilies.Org for information about what public benefits impact the public charge test.

I have been receiving grab ‘n go meals at my school. Can I still receive P-EBT?
Yes, children and teens can still receive free meals from school and community sites AND get P-EBT, too – they are separate programs.
• To find free meal sites near you, text the word “food” or “comida” to “877-877”
• You can also visit your school district website to find school meal locations in your area.

In the 2019-2020 school year I had to apply for P-EBT benefits. Do I need to fill out another application?
You do not need to apply for P-EBT, but you must make sure your child is enrolled in free or reduced-price meals OR attends a CEP school where all meals are provided for free AND that your address is up-to-date with your school.


In the 2019-2020 school year I received P-EBT benefits. Will the benefits for the 2020-2021 school year be loaded onto the same P-EBT card?
No, you will receive a new P-EBT card with the student’s name on the card. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.

In the 2019-2020 I received P-EBT benefits but I threw away or lost my P-EBT card. Can I still get benefits?
Yes, you will receive a new P-EBT card with the student’s name on the card. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.

If I’m currently receiving LINK, can P-EBT benefits be loaded on to there?
No, you will receive a new EBT card with the student’s name on the card specifically for P-EBT. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.

My child is attending school in the classroom every day. Are they eligible for P-EBT?
P-EBT benefits are supposed to replace the meals that students receive in person at the school. A student who is in the classroom full-time will receive meals at the school instead of receiving a P-EBT benefit.

My child is attending school in a hybrid model where they are in the classroom some days and learning remote some days. Are they eligible for P-EBT?
Yes, your child’s attendance will be counted by the school and they will receive a benefit amount based on the number of days that they lack access to an in-school lunch.

I think my child is eligible for free or reduced-price meals but we haven’t enrolled. Can I still get P-EBT?
You can still get P-EBT but you must apply for free or reduced-price meals with your child’s school. You may be eligible for benefits retroactive to August but you should apply as soon as possible.
How do I know if my child is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch?
Visit https://www.isbe.net/Documents/IEG-21.pdf to view the income eligibility guidelines for free or reduced-price school meals.

My child received free or reduced-price school meals, but I did not receive a P-EBT card in the mail. Who do I contact?

Benefit cards will not be mailed until March. If it is February or March, please be patient as the state implements this new program. If it is the end of March and you have not received your card please call the Illinois Department of Human Services at 1-800-843-6154 or email DHS.FCS.PEBT@illinois.gov.

My child didn’t get P-EBT in the 2019-2020 school year. Can I apply now and still get P-EBT benefits for the 2019-2020 school year?
No, you cannot get P-EBT benefits for the 2019-2020 school year. However, you may be eligible to receive benefits retroactively to the start of this school year (August 2020) if your child was engaged in remote learning.

If my child receives P-EBT, can I still get food pantry benefits?
Yes, your participation in government programs does not affect your ability to get food from a food pantry.

Where can I redeem P-EBT benefits?
P-EBT benefits are provided on a card that can be used like a debit card to purchase food at SNAP authorized grocery stores.

Last updated February 18, 2021.

Illinois Food Finder

Finding safe and healthy food should never be a concern in Illinois. Thanks to the Feeding Illinois partnership, a network of eight food banks across the state ensure that every suburb, town, and neighborhood has food resources to feed individuals and families.

How to Use This Resource:
Depending on your county, your food bank provider and local food pantry may change. To find the closest food pantry, find the county you live or work in on the state regional maps below. Once found, click on the corresponding link which will take you to a geographic food finder tool built specifically for your region. Simply enter a zip code, address, school, or town into the search bar to find local food options. We advise visiting the website of your chosen food pantry or giving them a call to confirm openings/closures and hours of operation.

Central Illinois Food Bank

Counties served: Adams, Pike, Brown, Scott, Greene, Schuyler, Cass, Morgan, Macoupin, Menard, Sangamon, Montgomery, Bond, Logan, Christian, Macon, Shelby, Fayette, Effingham, Marion, Jefferson

Eastern Illinois Food Bank 

Counties served: Woodford, Livingston, Ford, Iroquois, De Witt, Platt, McLean, Champaign, Vermillion, Edgar, Douglas, Moultre, Coles, Clark, Cumberland, Jasper, Crawford, Clay

Greater Chicago Food Depository 

Counties served: Cook

Northern Illinois Food Bank 

Counties served: Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Lake, Ogle, Dekalb, Kane, DuPage, Kendall, Will, Grundy, Kankakee

Peoria Area Food Bank 

Counties served: Peoria, Tazewell, Mason

River Bend Food Bank 

Counties served: Jo Daviess, Carroll, Whiteside, Lee, Rock Island, Henry, Bureau, LaSalle, Mercer, Knox, Stark, Putnam, Marshall, Henderson, Warren, Hancock, McDonough, Fulton

St. Louis Area Food Bank  

Counties served: Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, St. Clair, Clinton, Monroe, Washington, Randolph, Perry, Franklin, Jackson, Williamson

Tri-State Food Bank 

Counties served: Richland, Lawrence, Wayne, Edwards, Wabash, Hamilton, White, Saline, Gallatin, Union, Johnson, Pope, Hardin, Alexander, Pulaski, Massac

Illinois Virtual Dairy Farm Tour

Looking for a resource to teach kids about where their food comes from? Connect with seventh-generation family-owned Jersey dairy farm Marcoot Jersey Creamery! Learn how they care for their cows to produce delicious milk for you to enjoy on this virtual Illinois dairy farm tour! Visit the Dairy Excellence Foundation YouTube Channel at 10 a.m. on Thursday, October 22 to view this tour live!

Illinois Virtual Dairy Farm Tour

For more information, check out this flyer if you are a parent or student and this flyer if you are a teacher or school administrator wanting to use this trip as a part of your curriculum.

Schools, Families Adjust as USDA Ends Free Meal Waivers

Many Bloomington-Normal kids will no longer get the free school meals they’ve been getting since the start of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave each school district waivers to put all students on the free meal plan at the start of the pandemic, including during the summer. But as schools reopen, many of them virtually, the federal agency reversed course and now has schools charging those families that typically pay the reduced or full price, based on financial need.

District 87’s Director of School Nutrition Caroline Bubulka said she has written Congress asking the USDA to reconsider.

“Many families have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bubulka said. “A lot of them are in different job situations. They may not have the income that they previously had.”

Unit 5 Director of Food Services Joanna Rewerts said tracking those charges for each family is a challenge, especially since the district is doing meal pickups and deliveries during remote learning.

Read the full story on the WGLT website.

A Noble Response to a Noble Virus

Noble Network of Charter Schools found out on a Friday that school would be closed the next Monday for the foreseeable future. Monica Bromber-Karis, Director of Dining Services, spent the whole weekend brainstorming, planning, and implementing food distribution strategies for Noble Schools. Sure enough, meal kits were ready to go the very first Monday school was closed.

Noble sent out newsletters and used community connections, social media, and their website to promote the free meal program. Monica even looked for nearby businesses on Google Maps and reached out to see if they would help spread the word. Once word got out, the number of meals served started to increase rapidly, resulting in 235,000 meals being given out to date through the federal government’s school food program!. Monica said, “I immediately heard from our food service staff about how appreciative and thankful people are.” And with the variety of healthy, kid-friendly meals, it is no surprise that Noble has seen such success. By working to increase the variety of foods on the menu, kids now receive fan-favorites like spicy chicken sandwiches and roast beef subs in their meal kits.

What has been key to Noble’s success? Monica has always focused on making sure their food service staff feel safe and supported. Staff were provided with PPE and food pickup stations were set up in a manner that allows for no-contact pickup. Monica said, “Our food service staff from Chartwells and Aramark are members of our Noble family and they are doing work that is helping the most vulnerable members of our communities when it is needed the most. In turn we wanted to do all we can to show them our love, appreciation, and support.”

Monica and her team are continuing to grow Noble’s distribution. Ellen Moiani, Manager of Government and Community Affairs, helped facilitate a partnership with a community organization serving kids that needed some help feeding them. Now, Noble delivers meal kits directly to 3 community organizations, and Monica hopes the number of organizations her team serves will continue to grow.

DeKalb SD 428 Shout Out!

After receiving a $13,800 grant from Rise & Shine Illinois and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign the DeKalb School District began its Second Chance Breakfast Program. Students can grab a nutritional breakfast after the bell rings and between first and second period. The full story can be read on the Daily Chronicle’s website.

NSBW19

National School Breakfast Week (NSBW) is the first week in March and was established to raise awareness of the availability of the School Breakfast Program to all children. During this week, schools put their breakfast programs on display. The #NSBW19 theme is “Start Your Engines With School Breakfast,” which is designed to show parents, students, and school officials the benefits of fueling up for the day with a healthy school breakfast.

4 Things You Can Do During NSBW to Celebrate

  1. Apply for a Breakfast After the Bell grant before the March 4th deadline. If you have already received a grant from us and are seeking additional funds email Sr. Manager of Children’s Nutrition and Advocacy Outreach, Monique Batteast at mbatteast@gcfd.org.
  2. Email Communications Associate Manager, Rudi Hancock at rhancock@gcfd.org with a few sentences and a couple of pictures of what’s going on in your school during this week/month. We will shout out your school’s activities with posts on Rise & Shine Facebook and Twitter Pages.
  3. Copy and paste the following message on Facebook:

“I SUPPORT BREAKFAST AFTER THE BELL PROGRAMS FOR ILLINOIS STUDENTS.” #NSBW19 #TIMEFORBREAKFASTIL

4. Encourage one colleague or friend to sign up for the Rise & Shine Illinois monthly e-newsletter.