State Strategies Manager
We’ve provided examples (see here and here) of how schools in high-poverty areas can reduce hunger, cut red tape, and improve students’ learning environment by serving meals to all students without charge through the community eligibility provision. A recent story on a South Bend, Indiana school district’s decision to adopt community eligibility reinforces the option’s importance. It says in part:
At Madison Primary Center in South Bend, breakfast and lunch are considered two of the most important subjects.
“We’re a high poverty school,” said [Madison Primary Center] principal Deb Martin. “Our kids come in for breakfast, a lot of times they’ll eat off the share tray too because they’re so hungry.”
Still, Martin said she sees hungry kids every day.
“Everyone’s needs are not always met,” she added.
The story quotes the district’s food and nutrition director, Victoria Moore, saying, “By being able to have both breakfast and lunch at school daily, at no charge, I think it takes a huge lift off the households, knowing “my kid is going to have food today.”
Other recent stories from around the country highlight the benefits of providing free meals to all students. Here are excerpts from three recent examples:
In 2007, the entire Sunnyside district in the Tri-Cities area . . . took advantage of a federal provision for extremely high poverty schools to give every child free lunch and breakfast, every day. With aid from the federal government and without the cost of tracking the paperwork on every student who qualified, they actually saved money.
“I think the breakfast was really important,” says Chuck Salina, a Gonzaga professor who used to be a principal at Sunnyside. “Kids came, got there early, had a safe place to eat and were warm. I think the breakfast got kids off to really good start.”
[Community eligibility] has had a major effect in Fairview [Independent School District], said Bill Musick, the superintendent there. “It’s one of the most effective programs we have ever had,”?Musick said.
More than 90 percent of Fairview students eat the free meals, and Fairview also offers free dinner for children who stay for after-school activities.
The meals benefit working families who are struggling to make ends meet, he said.
[Indianapolis Public School] Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said providing every student with a meal will improve health and increase focus in the classroom. Too many IPS families, he said, lack access to fresh food in their neighborhoods.
“Hunger and having a healthy lunch and breakfast should not be a barrier to teaching and learning,” Ferebee said. “It’s our mission to remove every barrier to teaching and learning. I don’t want a stomach growling. I don’t want somebody thinking about lunch or breakfast.
“We want to make sure our students are healthy and well fed so they can learn.”
Patricia Cunningham of Delaware’s Seaford School District told us that her district, which serves about 3,500 students, will implement community eligibility this fall. “I have been a Director of Nutrition Services for over 30 years,” she explained. “As I near the end of my career, it is a dream come true to be able to implement [community eligibility]. . . . The district understands the correlation between good nutrition and learning. There are many families in the district who struggle to pay the reduced price for a meal. . . . It is a program that will benefit community families and their children as well as the district.”
More than 28,000 schools are eligible for community eligibility. Interested schools must sign up by June 30.