All students at 24 local schools will get free meals
Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.
A federal initiative will provide free breakfast and lunch for all students at 24 local schools, regardless of family income or ability to pay, when classes resume on Aug. 18.
The schools serving free breakfast, lunch
The following Alachua County schools will provide all students free meals starting Aug. 18: A. Quinn Jones School and Character Counts Center, Caring and Sharing Learning School, Genesis Preparatory charter school, Fearnside Center, Horizon Center, Alachua, Archer, Duval, Stephen Foster, Idylwild, Irby, Lake Forest, Littlewood, Metcalfe, Newberry, Rawlings, Shell, Terwilliger and Williams elementary schools, Howard Bishop and Mebane middle schools, Hawthorne Middle/High and Waldo Community School.
Alachua County Public Schools' Food and Nutrition Services will oversee the implementation of the program, which is being paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The schools were chosen based on the percentage of students who benefit from public assistance programs such as Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and who already qualify for free and reduced lunch.
"It's our highest-need schools," said Maria Eunice, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Alachua County Public Schools.
This is the first year Alachua County will participate in the federal program.
Overall, about 52 percent of families with children in school are eligible for free and reduced lunch, based on income.
Eunice said about 8,500 students in the district will be able to get free breakfast and lunch, on top of the thousands that already benefit from schoolwide free breakfast programs.
Another perk of the program is that families at the 24 schools who are eligible for free and reduced lunch no longer have to apply — every child at the school, regardless of family income, can simply go through the breakfast or lunch line.
"It's a very easy program to participate in," Eunice said. "We're excited to be able to offer this program to Alachua County."
Eunice said the federal initiative lasts four years. The school district will re-evaluate the group of schools at the end of each year to see if the neediest schools are still being served.
"It's going to be easier for everyone," said Libby Hartwell, principal of Shell Elementary and Hawthorne Middle/High, a combined student body of about 500. "We're very fortunate to have it."
Shell Elementary's percentage of students on free or reduced lunch has hovered in the mid-80s, so the need there is high, she said.
The percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch is about 10 percentage points lower at Hawthorne Middle/High, but especially in the high school, Hartwell said students don't always fill out the paperwork to receive free or reduced-price meals, so there could be more of a need than administrators know.
Hartwell said she hopes parents will be able to focus more on helping their children with school if the stress of paying for meals is lessened.
"I think it's going to be one less thing that parents have to be concerned about," she said.
Stephen Foster Elementary Principal James Kuhn said eliminating the paperwork also will eliminate any delays a student would have in receiving free meals if he or she transfers schools, or if there was a hiccup in the application office.
"You're not going to have anybody slip through the cracks," he said.
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