Students provided free breakfast and lunch at school

Published 7:15 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Starting this year, every student in Beaufort County Schools has access to a free breakfast and lunch.

It’s part of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which allows schools to serve breakfast and lunch to all students for free without an application process. The school district is then reimbursed for meal costs based on a formula, according to Greg Singleton, director of federal programs at BCS.

“If you have a little over 60% of the students in a school receiving government assistance, the federal government will reimburse for those meals at a rate that is high enough to cover the meal costs of the other 38-40%,” Singleton wrote in an email.

He said that the Community Eligibility Provision allows schools to pair high- and low-poverty schools together to reach the 60-percent threshold in total. This formula made BCS eligible for assistance, as the number of students in need continues to rise.

As of last year, the school district had six schools on a free and reduced meal program, and parents had to fill out applications to determine eligibility, said Gwyn Roberson-McBride, child nutrition director.

She said this led to some families being left out of the free and reduced meal program — some missed the income-bracket cutoff by mere cents.

“Because we qualify for this special program provision, we no longer have the paid, reduced and free,” Roberson-McBride said. “There’s no longer three different statuses a student may have. It’s just free.”

Another benefit of the Community Eligibility Provision is its elimination of unpaid lunch balances at the end of the year, according to Singleton.

“We no longer have to worry about covering those charges, which saves the district money at the local level. That savings is then able to be used in other areas of need in the district,” Singleton explained.

By just having a handful of schools on the free and reduced meal program in the past, the district was able to reduce these unpaid lunch balances from about $14,000 in 2010, to $4,000 last school year, Roberson-McBride said. Now there will be no such balance for unpaid lunches.

Roberson-McBride said the district is grateful for the Community Eligibility Provision and thinks it’s a good opportunity for parents and students alike. Child nutrition representatives will also offer food samples at school open houses to show families what will be served.

“We know that it’s difficult for those families to come up with $2.50 a day for lunch and $1.25 for breakfast,” Roberson-McBride said. “Some students do not eat from the time they go home to the time they return to school, so for them to be able to concentrate on their studies while they’re actually at school to learn, their stomachs need to be full. Their bodies need to be nourished.”