After delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Challis schools Food Director Sarah Jones said elementary students will get to munch on free, fresh fruits and vegetables again starting Sept. 21 thanks to a $9,675 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The kids love it; they love the fresh food,” Jones said. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program gave 118 Idaho schools funds to keep cafeterias stocked with fresh, healthy options for the 2020-21 school year. Jones said the Challis School District takes part in the program every year, but this year was more difficult to secure the funding.

Because responding to the coronavirus has taken over much of the state government’s attention, Jones said the fresh food program and others like it were deemed nonessential and put on the “backburner.” The grant money is normally sent in early August, Jones said, but this year it didn’t it show up till mid-September.

Now that the district has the money in hand, Jones said Challis Elementary students will be fine on fresh vegetables and fruits till June. The food director said despite the difficulties, she believes it is necessary Challis students have as many healthy food options as possible.

“With everything going on right now, keeping the kids healthy is important,” Jones said. “And then maybe they can take that knowledge home with them.”

Jones said the point of the USDA grant is to also educate students on healthier ways to eat outside of school. Bad nutrition often starts at home, Jones said, and it’s always good to see students learn how to make better choices.

A big part of students eating healthier in Challis, according to Jones, has been their teachers. Jones said teaching staff really push and encourage fresh fruits and veggies on the young children in the hopes of establishing good patterns early.

“They’re really good about encouraging kids to try new things,” Jones said, “especially the raw veggies.”