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Federal program buys daily lunch for all Big Sky School District students

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Left to Right: Ashley Dodd, Ali Pizza, Jamie Buntain and Lindsie Hurlbut gather in the kitchen during meal prep. PHOTO COURTESY OF ASHLEY DODD

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – All hot lunches at Big Sky School District will be free thanks to a federal program expansion.

In response to the fiscal effects of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program was extended through June 2022. The program usually only provides free lunches to students in low-income areas during summer months. The expanded program will take effect at BSSD Dec. 1.

“It’s going to benefit a lot of people who could stand to save some extra money right now,” said Lindsie Hurlbut, food service director at BSSD.

School board trustees voted unanimously on Nov. 9 to adopt the federal lunch program after listening to a presentation by Hurlbut.

Big Sky usually isn’t eligible for the summer program because the community doesn’t have a high enough number of children eligible for free and reduced-rate meals according to Hurlbut, but now that the extension has been offered to all schools, she said it will hugely benefit BSSD families.

Lunch usually costs $3.70 per day for grades K-5 and $3.90 for grades 6-12. Instead of parents paying, the USDA will reimburse those monies to the school. Hurlbut, a mother of two kids in the district, said this will save her about $1,500 from now until the end of the school year.

On average, Hurlbut says she and her five part-time staff serve about 70 percent of the district’s students each day—275 kids per lunchtime. She anticipates that number will go up when the new program kicks in.

“We are grateful for the herculean efforts of Lindsie Hurlbut and her school nutrition team for consistently serving healthy meals to our children throughout the evolving times of the pandemic,” wrote school board trustee Kara Edgar in an email to EBS.

Hurlbut works on preparing a Thanksgiving themed school lunch. PHOTO COURTESY OF ASHLEY DODD

Hurlbut’s staff echoed Edgar’s sentiments.

“All of us that work here with Lindsie we’re so impressed with what she’s been able to do with this program,” said Kitchen Assistant Ashley Dodd.

Hurlbut expressed her excitement about being able to offer this free lunch program to the Big Sky community and commended her staff for their support.

“The only way that I can make this happen is because I have an amazing staff and without that I wouldn’t be able to implement this program,” she said.

Hurlbut’s latest effort to adopt the federal program is one of the many ways she has worked to improve the district’s food services in her four years with the school.

She also writes a grant through the Moonlight Community Foundation, a big supporter of the lunch program, that helps her purchase Montana grown produce in an effort to produce high-quality lunches.

“Our ultimate goal for the lunch program is to get more kids eating the school lunch and make sure that we’re offering really healthy whole foods,” Hurlbut said.

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