'We're here to help:' Racine Unified School District offers students free meals for next 4 years

The Racine Unified School District's lunch program has helped 1,700 children a day this summer. Those meals will soon be free for all enrolled students.

By now, the lunch distribution is a well-oiled machine. Even if students aren't coming to school, the RUSD food service staff packs meals twice a week for students to take home.

It is a program that is now in high demand, helping manage family stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We don't know what their situation is like at home, and they're used to the kids coming in, getting a good meal at school, and we just want to provide that for them," said Principal Nathal Pollatz of Gilmore Fine Arts.

The lunches that so many depend on will be free for all enrolled students, starting Sept. 1.

"When so many families are living on reduced income or maybe on unemployment or reduced hours because they need to stay home with their children, this is critical for those families," Chery Herman, RUSD food service coordinator, said.

Workers prepare lunches for Racine Unified School District students

All of the district's 28 schools qualify for the community eligibility provision program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture; 58% of students are now considered economically disadvantaged.

The drive-thru style meal pickup that has helped hundreds this summer, with administrators like Pollatz delivering food, will carry on -- keeping students fed, regardless of where they are learning.

"As an educator, that's what we're here for. We're here to help. We're here to support people, and we try to do that as best we can," said Pollatz.

The program ensures breakfast and lunch options are covered for the next four years. The district is also considering a dinner option.