By Terry Rogers
On Monday, June 20, Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer for Milford School District, presented information regarding the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) offered by the federal government that would allow the district to offer all students lunch at no charge. The program is a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 which allows schools with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Milford has been providing free breakfast to all students for many years.
“The district has been working with the Delaware Department of Education for the past year to determine the feasibility of implementing the CEP districtwide,” Sharon Forrest, Child Nutrition Supervisor for the district, said. “CEP is available to local educational agencies in low-income areas with a minimum identified student percentage that is greater than or equal to 40 percent in the prior school year. Having met that requirement, we feel that CEP will benefit the children in our community by making them eligible to receive a nutrition breakfast and lunch at school at no charge to the household. The children will be able to participate in these meal programs without having to pay a fee or submit a meal benefit form. With CEP, there is no ‘stigma’ regarding ‘free or reduced’ meal, less time spent in line for cashiers and more time for students to eat and feel nourished and ready to learn. In addition, parents will not have to complete meal benefit forms, there will be reduced paperwork and administrative costs for the program allowing the district to spend more time focusing on menus and additional Child Nutrition program.”
According to Ms. Forrest, there is no cost to the district as the program is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture. Another option that the district hopes to implement is “grab-and-go” breakfast in the classroom for students who do not arrive at school in time to participate in the free breakfast offered in the cafeteria. Information about the program was presented to the Board of Education in order for board members to review the program. Ms. Croce said that it would be presented to the board at the July meeting for approval.
“I know how important it is for kids to eat during the school day after working as a school nurse,” Renate Wiley, President of the Board, said. “I have had children sitting in my office because they were unable to buy lunch. I have taken money out of my own pocket to pay for student lunches because the kids were hungry. I think this program will be very beneficial in Milford. It will take the stigma away from free lunch and allow children to have at least one, hopefully two, hot meals each day. We need to remember that some of these children may not get much to eat at home if they are living in poorer households.”
According to Feeding America, there are more than one million children living in food-insecure households. The No Hungry Kid Campaign in Delaware reports that 18 percent of students in Delaware struggle with hunger and that 58,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in the state. The organization reports, however, that only 52 percent of the children eligible are taking advantage of the free or reduced-price meal programs.
Ms. Forrest said that Milford served over 260,000 breakfasts last year and believes the program has room to grow. She said that the CEP program will help feed the community and prevent children from being hungry in classrooms, providing the right environment for children to learn and be active.
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