Ottumwa Schools commits to feeding low-income students during the summer through a USDA program

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Ottumwa Schools shipped out over 70,000 lunches to virtual students last year. But this summer, they have even loftier goals. They’re turning their attention to their summer feeding program.

And production is ramping up inside the Ottumwa High School kitchen as the cafeteria workers prepare to ship out their summer program lunches. Yvonne Johnson is the Director of Food Service for the school. She expanded the lunch program to the public last year because of the pandemic. Now, she says they’re expanding for 2021.“We’re looking for our numbers to just continue to rise.”

In pre-pandemic years, lunches were only served at “closed sites”. Those are sites generally part of a school program or a camp. But last year, they started serving at “open sites”, with no participation in a program required. And this year, they had 12 open sites, not only school buildings, but parks and apartment complexes. Meaning any kid under the age of 18 - or their parent - can come get a week’s worth of lunch on Thursdays.

To meet the demand, the cafeteria workers have bought new equipment, meaning they can prepackage food more efficiently. For instance, one week’s meal could include entrees like a salad, burrito, and grilled cheese, along with a helping of fruit. Johnson says the cafeteria workers “take the main entrees and freeze them. And we give instructions on how to reheat and consume.”

Their expectation is to serve 12,000 kids a week. Johnson estimated overall, they’re looking at over 150,000 lunches served over the course of the summer. She says it’s a lot of work, but they see that some students need the lunches. Johnson says there are “a lot of students who are relying on food from the school.”

The program’s funded through a USDA grant that reimburses the district for serving lunches during the summer. Ottumwa Schools has done this program for a while, but only now they’re serving more kids than ever.

To find a pickup site near you, and the times lunch is served, visit

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