School district, state dedicated to keeping kids fed

Those interested in applying for free or reduced-price meals from the school district should contact Karma Willbanks at 970-824-2160 or karma.willbanks@moffatsd.org.

— The Moffat County School District recently announced changes to its school lunch policy for the 2013-14 school year. The prices for school lunches this year, raised by 25 cents, are $2.75 for students kindergarten through fifth grade and $3 for sixth through 12th grades. Breakfast prices are $1.50 for kindergarten through fifth grade and $1.75 for sixth through 12th grades.

Additionally, the district has new income criteria for families seeking free or reduced-price meals. The free and reduced-price meal rates are determined by the federal government based on the poverty level, with households with an income of less than 130 percent of the poverty level qualifying for free meals or less than 185 percent of the poverty level for reduced-price meals.

For example, the requirement for a household of two is a yearly income of $20,163 or less for free meals or $28,694 or less for the reduced rate, which is 40 cents.

The rate is dependent on family size, with the maximum income increased by $5,226 for each member of the household for free meals and $7,437 for reduced-price.

Additionally, rates of $14,937 for free meals and $21,257 for reduced-price are the standard for a family of one, such as students who are living alone or supporting themselves.

“We don’t see it a lot, but there are some kids in the high school who do that,” said Judy Baker, director of food services for the district.

Students of any age who qualify for reduced-price lunch are automatically eligible for free breakfast, and students in second grade or younger can receive free lunches even if their families only qualify for the reduced rate.

The objective of the free and reduced-price school meals program is to provide children, especially in the younger grades, with the nutrition they need regardless of any financial constraints their family might be experiencing.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, there were 2,117 kindergarten through 12th grade students enrolled in Moffat County Schools last year, and of that total, 43.55 percent qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Of those, 721 were eligible for free lunches and 201 for reduced prices.

“As the economy changes each year, we tend to pick up more and more who qualify,” Baker said. “The kids who qualify also get consideration for reduced sports fees and things like that.”

Baker said it is important for families in need to apply as soon as they can, partly to determine area data.

“It helps us on our October count to be able to qualify for other programs based on the neediness of the district,” she said.

Applications for free or reduced-price meals are accepted at any time during the school year.

On a larger scale, Moffat County School District is about on par with schools across the state, with Colorado’s total percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals standing at 41.91 percent. However, since the percentage of students within the specific income constraints in each district ranges from zero to 90, it’s difficult to determine how Moffat County stacks up against other schools.

“It’s comparing apples to oranges,” said Bre Riley, program supervisor of the Office of School Nutrition with CDE. “Moffat is a very rural district, and you can’t really compare it to something as huge as DPS (Denver Public Schools).”

Riley added that Colorado schools have been a lunch program leader nationally, becoming the first state to receive full menu certification under new meal plan guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure healthy eating.

“It’s a huge accomplishment, and our districts worked really hard to implement that,” she said. “That alone says where our state and our school lunches are.”

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@craigdailypress.com.

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