For millions of children, schools are more than a place of learning. They're also a place to get the food they would otherwise go without.
Now, all California students can get that food - no questions asked.
Before the pandemic began, over 3.6 million California students qualified for free or reduced price meals at school. That's nearly 60% of all students in the state.
"Sometimes they have troubled homes, or the families can’t cook food when the kids have to go to classes at the time," said middle schooler Felix Gutierrez of students who need free meals.
Advocates believe the number of students who are eligible for free meals is much higher than that 3.6 million.
In order to qualify for the federal free lunch program, parents had to provide income information and immigration status. When the pandemic hit, the federal government waived the income requirements for free meals, allowing schools to offer the food to anyone who needed it.
In the newly adopted state budget, all public school students in California will receive free breakfast and lunch, no questions asked.
Local news from across Southern California
Those who support the program say language barriers and immigration status may have prevented children who were already eligible to receive free meals from enrolling. By making free food available to every child, the stigma of receiving free meals goes away.
"That’s great," said parent Chris Vasquez. "I believe that that’s a good thing for us!"
The Santa Ana School District put their fleet of buses to use delivering bags of groceries to the neighborhoods where their students live, while the Los Angeles Unified School District set up grab and go sites on campuses throughout the district.
"We knew hundreds of thousands of kids counted on us to provide meals at school so we set up a food effort for both children and adults, providing more than 134 million meals," LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner said on June 7.
The new state budget sets aside $650 million for the universal school meal program.