Students return to free breakfast, lunch

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By The Staff

Good news for parents: When students return to school on Aug. 19 parents won't have to root around for change to pay for a school breakfast or lunch, or both. 

That's because Florida is one of seven states participating in a pilot program that provides free breakfast and lunch based on certain criteria. The program is due to be rolled out in every state in the 2014-2015 school year. 

The Levy County School Board and Becky Tyson, director of the board's Food, Nutrition and Wellness Program, applied for the Community Eligibility Option under the federal Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 which tasks the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs with implementation of the four-year program starting with this school year.

The Levy County program includes all the public schools and Nature Coast Middle Charter School.  

Every student in every one of those schools will be able to get a free breakfast and a free lunch. 

For the next four years the school district has agreed to not collect applications for free or reduced price meals and to cover any meal costs above those provided by the federal meal reimbursements. 

Money to cover those costs not reimbursed can come from sales of “a la carte” items sold in the lunchroom, contributions from outside sources and profits from catering sales by the schools.

Levy schools have an a la carte program which offers students items not on the daily menu that they can purchase. 

The county met the eligibility criteria of a minimum of 40 percent identified students as of April 1, based on enrollment in programs other than a Free and Reduced Household Meal Application.  These include students who are directly certified for free meals based on their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid and the extension of benefits to students within the same household. Additional “identified” categories also include homeless, runaway, migrants, Head Start and foster children. 

Tyson said the district could have used school-by-school figures, but it went with community-wide data  to make sure all levels of schools (elementary, middle and high) were included in the free meals program.

The pluses of the program, according to the literature, is that all students receive breakfast and lunch, there is no issue of “free meal” students being identified, offers nutrition for at-risk students, reduces paperwork, meal counting, claims filing and labor. 

And one big plus is that every child — regardless of their disability, race, sex, color, national origin, age, disability, gender identity, religion, political beliefs, marital status, familial or parental status, income or lack thereof, will receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch.