In the rush to get sleepy children out the door and on the way to school, providing a balanced breakfast and lunch can wind up on the back burner. However, a new program approved for District 429 will allow the district to offer both breakfast and lunch to all students at a free or reduced cost.
    Supt. Brian Dukes recently sent out an informative memo to parents to let them know that the district is taking part in the national school lunch and school breakfast programs called the Community Eligibility Provision.
    According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the program is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas.
    The USDA website states: “The CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications. Instead, schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
    The district applied for program assistance six months ago, but only found out they were approved last week. Dukes said there are a number of qualifications that each participating district must meet in order to be considered, but the beginning threshold for qualifying school is 40 percent of students on free or reduced-cost lunches within the district.
    “We are closer to 60 percent of students on free or reduced-cost lunches,” Dukes said. “Of those, it is pretty even between the students receiving free or reduced lunches. Probably close to 30 percent of our students were receiving a free lunch and 30 percent received a reduced rate last year. The rest either paid full price or provided lunch themselves.”
    Dukes said part of the reason this new program is so important, is that studies have shown that students who don’t eat breakfast and lunch also don’t perform as well academically. Instead of having to wonder whether the students are getting all of their meals at home each day, the district has an option to guarantee it.
    “This program eliminates that issue because we can provide both breakfast and lunch,” Dukes said. “I recognize that sometimes mornings can be crazy and in the rush to get the students out to the bus on time, sometimes providing a healthy breakfast or packing a healthy lunch can be the one thing that a parent forgets.
    “Well, now parents can breathe a sigh of relief because we are going to take care of that. This  new program has the potential to impact all of our families at some level.”
    Further information on the program will be sent to parents over the next couple of months, but students will be able to begin day one with breakfast and lunch at their school. As the students get through the lunch line, someone will mark them off. Each meal is reported and at the end of the month the report is sent out to the state to make sure the district is reimbursed for its food costs.
    “From a financial standpoint, the reason why it’s so important for us to get as many meals out is that we’re being reimbursed for those meals,” Dukes said. “The more meals we can provide, the more reimbursement that we get to essentially break even from what we would have received the prior year.
    “It’s really important to encourage our parents and our students to take advantage of this opportunity. We continue to revisit the menu to make sure that it’s got items that the kids are going to love to eat, but we are also making sure to follow the national food guidelines.”
    Dukes doesn’t know whether the new program will require the district to purchase more food to make lunches, but the superintendent said he plans on analyzing food spending on a month-to-month basis.
    “We’re going to have to figure out how many kids actually take advantage of the program, but we’ll probably just figure out our ordering on a month-to-month basis,” Dukes said. “So, until we get about a year under our belt, we’ll be trying to figure it out. We have to make sure we’re ordering enough but also make sure that the food isn’t being wasted.”