Summer meal waivers are extended but food pantries still worrying about future

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 9:19 PM CDT
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BELTON, Texas (KWTX) - Local school children can still eat school meals for free, at least for now. And that is adding some worry to area food pantries already working extra hard.

An extension to school meal waivers is in effect, called the Keep Kids Fed Act, which President Joe Biden signed on Saturday.

It essentially keeps summer meals free for all students throughout the country. But that free part has a hard stop at the end of the summer.

“We definitely see that there’s going to be a hunger cliff at the end of summer,” said Alicia Jallah, executive director of Helping Hands Ministry in Belton.

What concerns people like Jallah is the students needing to qualify for free meals.

“We’re really scared that they’re going to go from having nutritious meals during the summer and maybe not be eligible for those free meals during the school year,” Jallah said.

Helping Hands offers a free food pantry that serves Bell County.

But recently, the staff is noticing a greater need from the community. And with inflation hitting family budgets harder, affording school meals next year could be a tough task.

That could mean increased visits to food pantries.

“Utility bills are going up, people are having use their money for those bills,” said Jallah. “Our families that might have been starting to get back on their feet were just hit back down with the rise of costs.”

Now, the food pantry is serving more than 400 families weekly, she said. That includes about 70 new families per month.

“Just last week, we had a day where we had 20 new families that have never needed assistance before, coming to receive pantry assistance,” said Jallah.

Even though they can keep up with the demand now, it is hard to fathom what is ahead come August.

“It’s only increasing, it’s only getting worse, if you will,” said Jallah.

For those interested in donating to Helping Hands Ministry, click here.

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