SWFL students can get free lunches through Oct. 20

FORT MYERS, Fla. Lunch is free through Oct. 20 for all Southwest Florida students because of Hurricane Irma.

Students in counties designated as disaster areas — including Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, DeSoto, Hendry and Highlands — are eligible to receive free lunches provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program.

“In times of disaster, it’s paramount that USDA makes it as easy as possible for our programs to be administered, so no one affected by this disaster goes hungry,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “Florida is currently reporting shortages of certain food products, so these sensible and timely flexibilities will ensure children receive the assistance needed.”

Schools can temporarily serve meals that don’t meet the menu planning or meal pattern requirements through Oct. 20, the USDA said. The USDA is providing flexibility regarding when kids can be fed, given the preparation challenges caused by Irma.

The USDA has also granted schools the option to operate Summer Meals Programs during the year for unanticipated school closures.

It’s unclear if any Southwest Florida schools have plans to serve meals while they remain closed.