Dane County’s school districts saw a similar pattern.
In Madison, the total number of meals served from March 2019 through February 2020 and in the same period a year later dropped by more than half from about 3.1 million to about 1.2 million.
In Verona, the district served about 388,000 breakfasts and lunches in the fall of 2019, but only about 156,000 in the fall of 2020, and the Middleton-Cross Plains district went from about 61,000 meals per month provided by the district and its education foundation pre-pandemic to about 16,000 per month post-pandemic. In Sun Prairie, total breakfasts and lunches provided from September 2019 through January 2020 was 210,080, and during the same period a year later, 187,080.
All the districts made free meals available at various sites and times for almost the entirety of the time their schools were closed to in-person learning, and in some cases delivered meals directly to students’ homes.
“It was important to our Board of Education members and our administrators to ensure that students had access to nutritious meals regardless of whether they were learning virtually or in person,” Verona spokesperson Raechelle Belli said.
Why more families — especially lower-income families — didn’t pick up more of those meals is unclear.
Anecdotally, some Middleton-Cross Plains families “indicated now that their children were learning from home, they didn’t need free meals” or that “the times meals were delivered weren’t convenient as they didn’t want their children to miss instruction,” district spokesman Perry Hibner said.