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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / From left, Dealin Blalock, D'Mario Lawrence and Braedyn Johnson-Mills, all 11, eat lunch in the cafeteria at Battle Academy on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

With federal funding running out this month, Hamilton County public schools have put limits on their offerings of free meals this summer.

Other community organizations, like the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, will continue to feed people free of charge, albeit with some changes to the way they operate.

The programs that allow them to continue, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will return to operating the way they did before the pandemic, which means families can no longer take a meal and go — they must be eaten on site. The requirement to eat on-site was relaxed during the pandemic.

"Over the past couple of years, the USDA gave us a bunch of waivers to operate in a different way. And we don't have that flexibility this summer," Hamilton County Schools Director of School Nutrition Kristen Nauss said in a phone interview.

"With our Summer Reach program, we are feeding the students that are attending Summer Reach, and that exhausted all of our resources, staff-wise. So, we have quite a lot of staff that go on summer break, or they have other summer jobs that they work. So, we're not doing any other community feeding beyond that," Nauss said.

In 2021, the school meal waivers were in addition to Summer Reach and a Summer Food Service Program that's been offered through the YMCA for a number of years.

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Chattanooga area summer meal programs

"We were making these meals to distribute to parents that wanted to come to the front of the building. We would pass it out while they were still in their car. But we're not able to do that this summer," Nauss said.

Around 60% of Hamilton County students qualify for free meals, Nauss said. Throughout the 2021-2022 school year, all students received free f00d due to the pandemic. But starting this fall, breakfast and lunch programs will return to full prices unless families apply for free or reduced price meals.

This summer, however, meals offered through the YMCA are available to any child between the ages of 1 and 18 with no documentation required, Paula Irwin, executive director of the J.A. Henry Community YMCA Summer & Year-Round Food Programs, said in a phone call.

Between the YMCA's 75 sites in Hamilton and Bradley counties in Tennessee and Catoosa and Walker counties in Georgia, approximately 3,500 meals are served each day, Irwin said. Last summer, over 500,000 meals were distributed.

All the meals follow healthy eating and physical activity standards set by the National AfterSchool Association, in addition to meeting federal nutrition requirements. Foods served contain no trans fats; have less than 8 grams of added sugar per serving; contain only whole grain; are not fried or pre-fried; and beverages are limited to water, 1% milk or non-fat milk.

A list of sites and schedules can be found at ymcachattanooga.org.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at cnesbitt@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.

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