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Free, reduced lunches a countywide benefit

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TATER THURSDAY:Students grab lunch Thursday in the cafeteria at R.J. Baskett Middle School in Gas City.
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ORANGE SLICE:Options such as fresh fruit offer students healthy choices for lunch at R.J. Baskett Middle School in Gas City.

BY Paige Conley - pconley@chronicle-tribune.com

National School Lunch Program is providing free and reduced school lunches to thousands of students across Grant County.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, 526,191 students in Indiana received free and reduced lunches for the 2016-17 school year. That's 48.2 percent of Indiana students.

Out of those students, 2,923 of them were from Marion Community Schools. Director of Communications Patricia Gibson said that Marion Community Schools participates in Community Eligibility Provision – a federally funded program that offers free school lunches to all students in schools located in low-income areas.

“Under the CEP, there is no application process for free or reduced-price meals, and there are no special requirements,” she said.

According to Gibson, all MCS students are automatically eligible for free meals. Any student can get free lunch and breakfast with no questions asked, she said.

As well as providing a regular source of food for students who may not otherwise receive a nutritious meal, CEP saves families money. To be exact, a potential savings of $100 per month per student, Gibson said.

“We feel like this is a really big benefit for our community across the board,” she said.

Similar to CEP, the National School Lunch Program is federally funded and offers students breakfast and lunch at a free or reduced price.

Director of Child Nutrition for Mississinewa Community School Corporation, Amanda Worrick, said the school is presented a list of students by the state who are already approved for the program. However, if a parent wants to apply for the program they can do so online or get an application from the school.

Families that are below 130 percent of the poverty level qualify for free meals and families that are between 130 and 185 percent qualify for reduced lunch, Worrick said. Students on reduced lunches can't be charged more than 40 cents per meal.

According to IDOE, Mississinewa had 1,576 students who received free and reduced lunches last year. 

“I feel that these programs are really important for our students,” Worrick said. “It definitely helps children who may not otherwise have access to nutritious meals.”

Since the NSLP is federally funded, all of the schools are reimbursed for every free and reduced lunch.

According to Food Service Director of Eastbrook and Madison-Grant Community Schools Kathy Bernaix, the schools are reimbursed $3.29 for every free lunch and $2.89 for every reduced lunch.

However, each school must meet the requirements for every free and reduced price lunch to be counted. There are five components to every lunch that includes protein, grains, fruits, vegetables and milk. A child must have at least three of the five components for it to count as a meal, Bernaix explained.

Eastbrook Community Schools provided 596 students and Madison-Grant provided 588 students with free and reduced lunches last year, according to INDOE statistics.

In addition, if a child qualifies for the NSLP they are eligible for textbook assistance, said Dana South, Oak Hill United School Corporation food service director.

Last year, 576 students at Oak Hill received free or reduced price lunches. According to South, school lunch might be the only meal a child receives that day. 

“What we charge for a meal, I don't believe you can give them the same kind of food for that price,” she said.

There are options for children so they don't have to go hungry and South hopes that families look into NSLP and other programs like it.

“Those programs are there, and we hope everyone will take advantage of filling out the application.”