Free and reduced price meal program makes sure kids get fed | CraigDailyPress.com

Free and reduced price meal program makes sure kids get fed

Lauren Blair

School is back in session, which means not only classrooms but school lunchrooms are abuzz with activity. For some families who struggle to make ends meet, this part of their child's day is made a little easier with Moffat County School District's free and reduced price meal program.

The income levels required to qualify for free or reduced price meals are calculated every year by the federal government based on the current poverty level. This year, for a household of two individuals, the household income must be $20,449 or less to qualify for free meals or $29,101 for reduced meals, according to an MCSD press release.

The numbers change depending on how many are in the household, and larger families simply add $5,278 for each additional family member to qualify for free meals or $7,511 for reduced price meals.

Secretary of MCSD Food Service Department Karma Willbanks said that they encourage parents to calculate their average monthly income, not including overtime pay, holiday bonuses or other forms of fluctuating income.

Though the final numbers aren't in yet for this year, in 2013, the percentage of students who received free and reduced lunches increased to 44.03 percent compared to 43.55 percent the prior year.

"The participation of free and reduced has definitely gone up over the years," Willbanks said.

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Regular prices for breakfast and lunch at schools have remained the same as last year — breakfast costs $1.50 for kindergarten through fifth-grade students and $1.75 for sixth- through twelfth-grade students, with lunch priced at $2.75 and $3.00 respectively.

Reduced-price lunch costs $0.40, and children at all grade levels who qualify for the reduced price lunch can also receive breakfast at no charge. Breakfast is served every morning in each school's cafeteria 25 minutes before the first bell rings.

Because MCSD belongs to the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, it's reimbursed by the federal government for each student who participates in the program, although it must also meet certain criteria for the meals it serves. In fact, all student meals are subsidized to keep them affordable and the school district receives some reimbursement for every one of its students.

The only significant change to the program this year is that any children in preschool through fifth-grade whose households qualify for the reduced price lunch will actually receive lunches for free, whereas last year it was only preschool through second-grade.

Students who were part of the program last year automatically carry over for a 30-day period into the new school year, with applications due Sept. 26 to remain on the program without interruption. Qualifying families can join at any time however, and applications are accepted throughout the year.

Willbanks said that she and Director of Food Services Judy Baker see a number of seasonal workers join the program every fall, and they encourage seasonal workers to get their applications in early.

"We highly recommend that as soon as the snow starts flying that they turn in an application," Willbanks said. "For construction workers or highway workers, their work goes down in the winter."

To ensure students' privacy, the system is entirely confidential. Every student in the district is given a pin number, according to Willbanks, and every child who partakes of school meals simply enters her pin number on a pin pad.

"Nobody ever knows if it's free or reduced or regular," Willbanks said.

Willbanks and Baker do a lot of outreach to make sure every qualifying family gets signed up for the program.

"Judy and I try to call households that we might see and try to get them to (sign up) for the program," Willbanks said. "I think we've really bridged that gap."

Households that meet free and reduced price meal program standards may also qualify for free or reduced book fees, class fees, sport and athletic fees and drivers education fees. Applications for the meal program must be on file by Sept. 19 in order to arrange for other reduced fees.

To receive or submit an application, contact Karma Willbanks at 970-824-2160.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.