Extended Summer Food Program making a difference in Dowagiac

The district’s food service program continues to serve the needs of its students, even when kids are not in the classroom.

The Extended Summer Food Service Program offers free meals to children 18 years of age and under or persons up to age 26 who are enrolled in an educational program for the mentally or physically disabled that is recognized by a state or local public educational agency.

The program’s meals, consisting of both breakfast and lunch, are prepared at Dowagiac Middle School and distributed throughout the school district Monday through Friday. From 11:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., five school buses filled with coolers of meals drive to six bus stops apiece and serve lunch at their respective stops in 30-minute blocks.

On Fridays, the program serves a “three-day” bag, containing both breakfast and lunch meals for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“A lot of people didn’t realize we were doing bus stops,” said Debra Cahill, the director of food service at Dowagiac Union Schools. “The buses can’t get into the tight spots in some of these apartment complexes. We’ve been using the bus stops instead, and the traffic has started to pick up.”

Cahill said more than 660 students are registered for the program. The program was initially set to be the National School Lunch Program, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced last week that the Summer Food Service Program was to be extended.

“That totally changed it,” Cahill said. “It’s exciting because this is like a bright light for us after COVID shut everything down. We’re seeing a lot of kids come out, and we’re feeling pretty happy about it.

The district is set to run the program until students are allowed to return to schools for in-person learning, Cahill said.

“We’re going to run it until we can’t,” she said. “If we’re not in school, we’re going to run it. It’s exciting and our bus drivers have been great.”

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