A new service is being extended to families of students who missed meals and the chance to hang out with friends at lunch because of the pandemic, which is now threatening to do the same to many summer programs families rely on.

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) is for children 5-18 years old who received SNAP food benefits for the month of March 2020 and children up to 21 years old who are certified for free or reduced-price meals at school in Texas during the 2019-20 school year.

Additionally, children who attend a school that offers free meals to all students (through the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2) are also eligible. In Angelina County, that is currently Lufkin and Diboll ISD.

“For those who maybe have had hours cut or even lost a job, $285 per child can add up significantly,” said Amanda Calk, Lufkin ISD director of Student Nutrition Services. “They do have up to a year to use these funds to purchase groceries. Even if they are picking up meals now, summer feedings won’t last forever. They could save those funds until July and use them then.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Lufkin ISD had served 120,930 meals since the pandemic began. The district has since moved from an everyday distribution to a twice weekly distribution. Families still receive meals for each day, but they are given several at a time.

Calk said the pandemic had disrupted both the school year and the summer programs for the district. On an average school day, the district would give out somewhere around 9,000 meals to students. For summer programs, they would be able to go to parks and serve meals to kids on the premises.

Instead, they are continuing the grab-and-go concept two days a week to reduce contact and protect employees and students.

Lufkin ISD’s food distribution is held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at Slack Elementary School, Lufkin High School, Brandon Elementary School and Trout Primary School.

“Many of our students in Diboll rely on the breakfast and lunch meals we provide,” said Kerri Sanford, Diboll ISD child nutrition supervisor. “The Child Nutrition staff in our district normally serve over 1,400 lunches to students each school day, which is the majority of our student population.”

Expenses during an emergency like this pandemic can quickly add up, more for some families than others, so any amount is going to be beneficial to families in the community, she said.

“Another way our district is providing some financial relief will be to provide all school supplies for students in the 2020-2021 school year,” Sanford said. “School supplies can become very costly, especially when you have more than one child in the household. I am so thankful that we have administrators and school board members that care about the students and families we provide for.”

The Diboll summer feeding program will run through July 31. Meals are provided at the Diboll Primary SChool as a curbside service from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

Families who received SNAP benefits for the month of March 2020 had their benefits loaded on their existing SNAP card by May 22. However, if the family has children under 5 and/or between the ages of 19 and 21, they will need to fill out an application for those children at yourtexasbenefits.com/Learn/PEBT by June 30.

If a family does not currently receive SNAP benefits, they should also apply for P-EBT at https://yourtexasbenefits.com/Learn/PEBT.

Calk said the first question on the application asks “is your child eligible for free or reduced meals at school,” and she said parents of a child who attends a school that qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision (both Lufkin ISD and Diboll ISD), should answer yes.

If the student(s) is approved for P-EBT, the family will be mailed a P-EBT card loaded with benefits.

The P-EBT is a one-time benefit for up to $285 per eligible child. The funds will be usable for one year from the day the benefits were issued. For help filling out the P-EBT application, call (833) 613-6220.

For more information, visit hhs.texas.gov/pebt or call (833) 613-6220.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.