Free and reduced student lunch programs benefit many county students

MANISTEE — A hungry child isn’t usually a successful one in the classroom.

School districts throughout Manistee County have large numbers of students involved in the free and reduced lunch programs that are determined by family income guidelines.(File photo)

School districts throughout Manistee County have large numbers of students involved in the free and reduced lunch programs that are determined by family income guidelines.(File photo)

Statistics have proven that point for a long time, but local school food service directors point out there no longer is a need for any child to go hungry thanks to the Free and Reduced Breakfast and Lunch programs. By filling out a simple form parents determine if they qualify for the Free and Reduced programs.

Manistee Area Public Schools Food Service director Keri Carlson and Tim Klenow, who fills the same role for Kaleva Norman Dickson, Bear Lake and Onekama schools, said many people don’t realize they can qualify for this service.

“In order to qualify the government actually sets up the standards and all the parents have to do is fill out the free and reduced lunch form and return it to us,” said Carlson. “There is also information on our website about it and it is much quicker to do it online.”

Carlson said they also operate a direct certified where the State of Michigan bumps into the school district’s systems and families that get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are directly certified from the state.

“Those parents do not even have to fill out a form,” she said.

Carlson said the government sets the standards for income amounts if the lunch will be free or at a reduced rate.

“Sometimes people get the application and think they qualify for free because they are under the maximum amount you can earn,” she said. “However, there is always a threshold in there that the government sets for us. So some families that are larger in number qualify for free and some that might be smaller qualify for reduced.”

Klenow said he is always encouraging people to fill out the necessary forms.

“Some of them do it on their own, but for a lot I have to call, mail and send home applications to get as many people to qualify as possible,” he said. “When we do the open house at the beginning year I always put out the packet for the free and reduced lunch and there is instructions to make it easier.”

Carlson also pointed out the guidelines change yearly on the maximum and minimum amounts people can earn to qualify for the program.

“They change that every year, but all students who qualified for one year will be carried for 30 days into the next year to give parents the chance to fill out the paperwork,” said Carlson. “A lot of parents will call during the school year and say their income has changed as someone may have been laid off. If they even had another child that impacts it. I always stress to them that any time during the whole school year they can re-apply.

The price for a reduced lunch at every school in the county is 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. A regular lunch at MAPS elementary is $2.30 and at the middle/high school it is $2.55.

Klenow said it is similar around the county prices. At KND and Bear Lake the full price for elementary is $2.75 for lunch and $2.95 for middle/high school. At Onekama the price is $2.70 for the elementary and $2.90 for the middle high school.

“It is a substantial savings,” he said. “Everything is confidential and who doesn’t want to save to money?”

Both Carlson and Klenow said students on the free and reduced lunch receive the exact same lunch as those who pay the full price. They also said everything is confidential when it comes to who is in the program including how they pay.

“Our Point of Service system Meal Magic works when students come up to the cash register they punch in their student identification number and nobody knows if they have free and reduced or full paid,” said Carlson. “The computer system has made our lives a lot easier.”

However, another component of the program is the students have to take the required food to qualify as a reimbursable meal by the government. As long as they have all the components they get credited for it.

“Some kids are not big protein eaters, but as long as they have a grain, vegetable and fruit they are good to go,” she said. “So all the people working the register are trained at the beginning of the year because the requirements are always changing and we have to meet them.”

Carlson said the school districts do get reimbursed and there is a rate set by the government. She added that it is not just the rate that matters and it also contributes to the number of commodities they get to purchase.

“I am able to produce commodities at a reduced rate based on our free and reduced rate,” said Carlson.

Klenow said because the districts get reimbursed it benefits both the families and the school.

“It really is a win-win for everyone, so that is why I try to get as many parents to fill them out as I can,” he said. “A lot of parents really don’t know if they qualify or not, so I always tell them it doesn’t hurt if they try.”

Over the past several years Klenow said the numbers have been going down very slightly by a percent or two or holding steady in some districts.

“We just want to make sure that everyone who qualifies gets the opportunity to get the free and reduced lunch,” he said.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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