Families brace for changes to pandemic-era free school meals

  • A student lunch of homemade pizza and caesar salad is placed on a tray at the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, in Essex Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 9, 2022. The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels — is ending, raising fears about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

  • Students eat lunch of homemade pizza and caesar salad at the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, in Essex Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 9, 2022. The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels — is ending, raising fears about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

  • Students get lunch of homemade pizza and caesar salad at the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, in Essex Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 9, 2022. The pandemic-era federal aid that made school meals available for free to all public school students — regardless of family income levels — is ending, raising fears about the effects in the upcoming school year for families already struggling with rising food and fuel costs. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

ESSEX, Vt. — Before the pandemic, there was no room in the budget for Kate Murphy’s children to buy lunch at school. She and her husband would buy in bulk and make bag lunches at home. So the free school meals that were made available to students nationwide amid the crisis have brought welcome relief, especially since her husband lost his job last year at a bakery company that closed.