They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
But that’s not going to be the case for students of Seymour Community School Corp. and other school districts in Jackson County.
Beginning today, all students in public schools in Seymour, Brownstown, Crothersville and Medora are eligible to receive free breakfasts and lunches thanks to a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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The waiver is another action being taken to provide assistance and relief to families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said Stacey Townsend, director of child nutrition programs for Seymour Community School Corp.
“This is an effort to help ensure that all students will have access to nutritious food during this time,” she said.
The waiver is good through Dec. 31 or until federal funding is depleted, whichever comes first.
No student will be excluded based on what school they attend or their family’s income level.
Families do not need to do anything to enroll in the program, and it does not change income eligibility status for meal or textbook assistance, Townsend said.
“Parents should continue to apply for meal benefits and textbook assistance for this school year,” she said. “Once this waiver period ends, we will resume our regular program.”
Students will need to have money in their accounts if they want to purchase extra servings and a la carte items.
The funding for the program is coming from the same source used by schools to serve free meals to all children in the community during the summer. It also allowed schools to serve free prepackaged to-go meals to all students during the spring when schools were closed due to the pandemic.
The cost of all meals served will be reimbursed to the schools by the USDA at the free meal rate, which is greater than the financial support schools receive for serving reduced-price or paid meals.
“This waiver should financially benefit our families and the food service department,” Townsend said. “My hope is that this will help provide some temporary financial relief for families who may not qualify for meal assistance.”
Up until now, only two Seymour schools, Margaret R. Brown and Seymour-Jackson Elementary, have offered free meals to all students during the school year. Those two schools qualify for the federal Community Eligibility Provision program because they are located in high poverty areas with at least 40% of students identified as low income.
Townsend said she continues to monitor the free and reduced lunch numbers to see if any of the other buildings would qualify for the CEP program, which has proven successful at Brown and Jackson.
By offering free meals to all students, Townsend believes more will choose to eat at school.
SCSC is currently serving around 1,000 breakfasts and 3,000 lunches per day. Those numbers are down from the 1,350 breakfasts and 3,600 lunches being served before schools closed in the spring.
“We have seen a decrease in meal participation this year with some students choosing to participate in virtual online education and more students bringing lunch from home,” Townsend said.
Brownstown Central Community School Corp. Superintendent Tim Taylor said high school Principal Joe Sheffer and high school Lunch Fund Treasurer Natalie McGinnis played a big role in the corporation receiving a waiver.
“(They) did all of the work to get this accomplished in a very short time,” Taylor said. “We are very appreciative of their efforts. This will have an immeasurable positive impact on our students and their families.”
Crothersville Community School Corp. Superintendent Terry Goodin notified parents and students about the district receiving a waiver via a letter that was sent out and also posted on Facebook.
The letter states all money currently in a student’s account will stay there, and when the waiver ends, the account will be reverted back to the free, reduced and paid program. Also, a student will be charged for any item he or she has beyond the tray of food provided.
Annette King, the corporation’s deputy treasurer, received praise from Treasurer Terry Richey for working all Friday morning to make the waiver happen for Crothersville students.
“It means a lot to see this happen for our families,” King said. “I have checked into free lunches the past two years, but our poverty level just isn’t low enough.”
Medora Community School Corp. Dean of Students Kara Hunt said the district qualified for the waiver because of its number of students receiving free and reduced lunch.