Free/reduced lunch program has far-reaching impact

Written August 14th, 2014

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By Jason Wessendorf

Unified District #1 Superintendent Dale Martin said in August of last year that all of the schools in the district felt the crunch of new nutritional guidelines and increased food costs. Since then, there haven’t been a lot of changes – no magic wand to lower the cost of food nor amazing new technology to make its preparation a low-cost undertaking. There is one thing that people can do to help alleviate the problem, however, and its benefits may reach well beyond the cafeteria.

The free/reduced lunch program provides many benefits to families and to their school. Besides your child receiving a hot, nutritious meal, the school district may receive federal funding for students qualifying for free/reduced-price meals. This federal funding could translate into money for food or equipment for the school kitchen. The school district may also receive reimbursement for students’ educational needs, such as: waiver of some school fees; post secondary options; scholarships; Backpack Program food and snacks; waiving of student fees; after school programs and much more.

The number of free/reduced meal recipients in a school district also dramatically impacts state and federal grant opportunities that may be used to enhance education.
The biggest obstacle school districts face when it comes to having kids enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program is having parents fill out the application form. Why is this? There could be many theories, some of which include:
• Pride – not wanting to take “a handout.”
• Embarassment – free/reduced lunch tickets used to be a different color from “regular” lunch tickets years ago in many schools.

The fact is, applying for free and reduced lunches is one of the best things a person can do to help their school, and to help their school help their kids. The applications are confidential. All student lunch cards are identical in appearance and are scanned the same way. If you qualify, you’ll be doing your school and your children a service.

Verdigre Public School recently began to reap the benefits of improved participation in the free and reduced lunch program. Principal Chuck Kucera had many positive things to say about the development:
“After receiving a positive response and improved percentage of returned free/reduced lunch applications from families last fall, our campus has hit the 50% free/reduced lunch mark (51% at the conclusion of the ’13-’14 school year) and became eligible (for the first time) for many of the benefits that are associated with this benchmark,” he said. “For instance, we applied for and were awarded a state-funded fruits and vegetable grant, and will begin receiving free fruits and vegetables for our elementary students this year. Our campus also now receives from the state’s free “back pack meals” that are distributed to families on a weekly basis. Our 3rd grade students and staff were even granted an all-expense-paid trip to Henry Doorly Zoo this past May! Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that our lunch fund ended the year with a positive balance for the first time in several years, due in part to our increased federal reimbursement dollars resulting from improved participation in the free/reduced lunch program. Families are once again asked to take the time to complete and return the free/reduced lunch application included in the back-to-school mailing that went out last week! Contact your school office for more information on how to apply.”

The government money is out there if enough people ask for it. Just by filling out a simple form, you can positively impact your child’s educational experience.
Call the school’s office at 402-668-2275 for more information.

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