TALLMADGE – The school meal program will continue through the summer for any family that applies.

When COVID-19 forced schools to close, the Tallmadge City School District established an emergency meal program for its students and families, said Superintendent Jeff Ferguson. The need has not gone away just because school is out for the summer and will continue during the summer months.

Two changes are being made to the program as it transitions to summer, Ferguson said. Meals will be distributed one day per week, on Thursdays, beginning June 11. Additionally, meal pickup is moving from Tallmadge Middle School to Door 12 at Tallmadge Elementary School. Door 12 is next to the new playground on the west side. Meals will continue to be distributed at Saxon Village, 254 N. Thomas Road.

The school district has 300 students signed up for breakfast and lunch, said Steve Wood, chief operating officer for the district. The school district’s kitchen staff prepare 3,000 meals per week or 10 meals per student.

The meals are mostly pre-packaged with some prep work, Wood said.

Dare-to-Share, an established feeding partnership between Tallmadge High School and the Tallmadge Rotary Club, will still provide delivery services to families with transportation struggles, Ferguson said. The time for pickup or delivery remains 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

"A big part of Rotary is service above self so especially in an unprecedented time like this, we focus on what others may need and support those needs," said Amanda Braden, president of Tallmadge Rotary Club.

Rotary treasurer Kim Ray said they have around 20 volunteers who deliver to 65 families who don’t have transportation or can’t pick up meals. They have three routes that take about an hour to deliver.

The Tallmadge Rotary Club and Foundation have collaborated with the schools in Dare-to-Share, a weekend nutrition assistance program started in 2013, that is separate from the free lunch meals the schools provide.

Dare-to-Share is usually run by the Family and Consumer Science class at the high school who pack bags with five lunches and snacks for students who qualify for free or low income lunches for meals over the weekends. This bag is delivered in addition to the free lunches.

"It’s nice for the kids to help other kids," Ray said. "We provide additionally to those who qualify for free or low-priced meals. We provide an additional bag of food, which normally went out on Fridays for the weekend, and we’re delivering it with the lunch program."

Tallmadge Rotary Foundation was happy to serve as a partner and conduit to serve families, Ray said. The Tallmadge United Methodist Church also volunteers and the Tallmadge Lions Club has weekly collections.

"We have packaging parties and packed 300 bags last night at the community center," Ray said. "We have so many generous, open-hearted people who want to help."

Tallmadge is a small enough community that a few volunteers can make a difference, Ray added. No child should go hungry.

The program is available to all families with children 18 years of age and younger, Ferguson said. Families who are presently enrolled are automatically enrolled in the summer program. Any family that would like to un-enroll should call the School Meals Hotline at 330-633-5587. Families with children ages 1 to 18 can enroll by calling the hotline or visit www.tallmadgeschools.org to learn more.

"A lot of folks are so thankful [for the food program] because of the economical struggle some families go through," Wood said.

Some families may not have an economic need but sign up to have a connection to the school, Wood said. They miss school meals and it helps students have a physical connection to buildings through this remote learning process.

"We’re able to provide this service without causing a taxpayer burden with a special allowance by the state to fund the program because of the COVID-19," Wood said.

The program is funded through special allowances made by the state of Ohio, Ferguson said. Tallmadge City Schools is reimbursed for each meal provided, thereby shifting the burden off Tallmadge taxpayers.

Tallmadge wouldn’t normally qualify for a full feeding program but because of the extraordinary circumstances, the school district can provide it and be reimbursed by the state, Wood said.

"Thank you to the Tallmadge City Schools kitchen staff who have made every meal and who also lead the distribution process," Ferguson said. "Thank you to the Dare-to-Share volunteers for distributing meals to families. We could not do this without your selflessness and generosity."

School is scheduled to resume Aug. 17. Wood said the school district is putting together a remote robust program for families who are not sending their children back to school until the crisis is completely over. 

The district is preparing the schools for those students who will return, he said. Both staff and students will be screened to make sure they are healthy, everyone will practice healthy hygiene and social distancing.

"We will do anything we can do to slow the spread," Wood said. "The key is to have a remote learning platform."

The district conducted a survey and about 60% of families said they were ready to send their children back to school in August, Wood said. They understand the importance of face to face learning. But 40% are not comfortable about sending their children back to school, and the district needs a strong remote learning platform.

"Hybrid learning will be the magic word for school next year," Wood said.

For more information about the Tallmadge City School District, visit www.tallmadgeschools.org.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com