2020 was a year full of challenges for school students and staff everywhere. From adjusting to virtual learning to making sure each student had what they needed to succeed, teachers and administrators alike had their hands full from dawn to dusk. Over the pandemic year, we saw how teachers changed tactics and the many ways they stayed connected with their students, whether it was a socially-distanced visit to help someone with their homework or doing a parade through children’s neighborhoods to bolster spirits and to show their support from afar.

Another way schools helped to ensure student success was through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, which makes student meals available for no charge throughout the year. Throughout the height of the pandemic, USDA worked with states to continue to ensure that children who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school received that benefit as they attended school remotely. It was a significant step toward solving food insecurity during the pandemic, providing students with breakfast and lunch each day. 

Even with this program’s social safety net, many children are still feeling the impact of school closures when it comes to food. According to Feeding America, an estimated 15 million children suffered from food insecurity and hunger last year. This is 4 million more than the 11 million going hungry in 2019, and while the 2021 number is estimated to lower to 13 million[1], it’s still disheartening to know that even in 2021, many American children will still go hungry.

In the spring of 2020, the U.S. Apple Association postponed awarding the Apples4Ed grant prizes due to school closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With applications intended for in-classroom instructional plans and school communities quickly transitioning to remote learning, USApple decided to direct that funding to support trusted partners who were helping close the nutritional gap on the ground.

USApple President and CEO Jim Bair says, “When USApple was unable to award funding to schools for healthy eating initiatives, it made sense to look to our partners to see where we could instead assist in their efforts during this critical time.” Along with the School Nutrition Foundation and other allies, USApple shifted its focus to funding food assistance programs for students, with its $20,000 in grant funding going to their efforts to reduce student hunger.

In partnership with the School Nutrition Association and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculturethe Apples4Ed grant opportunity has returned for 2021. Once again, five schools have a chance to win a $4,000 grant to establish healthy eating initiatives and access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Any public school with students from kindergarten through 12th grade is eligible for consideration. USApple will start accepting submissions on October 1, 2021, and the deadline is January 21, 2022; judging will occur in February, followed by an announcement of the winners in April, with the funds delivered in the summer to prepare for the next school year.

The five 2019 winners were:

We’d like to hear from you about the ideas you have for your school. What kind of healthy snacking and eating initiatives would you implement to foster improved health and happiness among your students? Submit your school here and let us know how the Apples4Ed grant would help your community.

[1] Source: Feeding America, The Impact of the Coronavirus on Food Insecurity in 2020 & 2021.