RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — The COVID-19 pandemic took a lot from students over the last few years, but one thing they did not have to sacrifice was healthy meals.

For the last three years, the Pandemic EBT program made sure that children in need from Kindergarten through 12th grade still had access to food. The program helped 1.6 million children, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Now, the program is preparing to close the curtain.

NCDHHS issued a release Monday to inform the public that the P-EBT program will continue through this summer before coming to end just before the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

“This program, though temporary, has been a lifeline for so many children to get nutritious meals when they could not get them at school,” said NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being Susan Gale Perry in a news release. “Children need good nutrition to grow up healthy and to live their best lives. This program shows how we can meet a critical need for our children across North Carolina.”

Families of students in grades K-12 who attend school in person and are part of a school’s free- or reduced-price meal program for the 2022-2023 school year will be eligible to receive a one-time $120 payment in July, meant to last the summer. The payments will go out to FNS or P-EBT benefit cards. Any families new to the program will get a card in the mail.

Families with FNS benefits will automatically be enrolled for P-EBT and school meals on or before May 31. Any families hoping to receive summer benefits who have not previously qualified for free or reduced lunch should apply for the school’s free or reduced meals program or Food and Nutrition services no later than May 1 as applications can take more than a month to process.

For more information on how to apply for free and reduced-price meals, contact your child’s school.

To apply for FNS, visit the NCDHHS website or contact your county department of social services. FNS will remain available even after the P-EBT program ends this summer.