In Andover, about 20,000 meals and 500 boxes of food are given out every Wednesday at Bancroft School.

As cars pull up to the school, cafeteria employees place brown bags of a week's worth of pre-made breakfasts and lunches in cars, along with boxes of fresh food.

It's part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's school lunch program put in place because of the pandemic to keep people fed and employees on the payroll. The district will continue to serve meals to anyone under the age of 21 through June 2021, however, the boxes stopped this week.

"If the school nutrition programs shut down across the country that would be a huge burden on farmers and manufacturers because that is so much food not being distributed," said Gail Koutroubas, director of food and nutrition services for the district.

Andover's nutrition employees work hard to ensure that all of the more than 1,000 brown bags have nearly identical meals, said Taylor Pirog, the assistant of nutrition. Each bag has two different meals  — breakfast and lunch — for seven days a week, she said.

Prior to the pandemic when everyone was in school, the district would serve about 15,000 meals a week — 3,000 a day in school, Koutroubas said. In the spring when schools shut down, no in-school meals were being served.

Now with the hybrid schedule, they serve about 1,500 a day in addition to the 20,000 pre-made meals each week, she said.

Without the federal program she wouldn't be able to keep her 40 staff members employed, she said. 

This program also addresses food insecurity, which is on the rise because of economic conditions caused by the COIVD-19 pandemic. The need for food in Andover has steadily increased, Koutroubas said.

"People are not immune because they are in a certain community," she said.

The district is reimbursed by the federal government for all meals served in school along with the to-go meals. So, every meal served is more money coming into the district, Koutroubas said.

"That keeps our program more sustainable," she said.

Typically about 800 students a year qualify for free or reduced lunches from the Andover district, she said. This year everyone gets free meals because the program goes through June 30, 2021.

However, families should still apply to the free and reduced lunch program if they qualify because the district gets other federal funding opportunities based on that number, Koutroubas said.

Anyone ages 0 to 21 is eligible to get these lunches. Drivers are asked how many bags they need when they come to the school.

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