Gulfport among other school districts transition from free school meal program

Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 5:01 PM CDT
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - For sure, no one is going hungry in the Gulfport School District, and the grub here is good.

“The meals, they are great,” said Gulfport High School student Samuel Stewart. “They are fresh and ready for you to eat. They have all the food, all the fruits you can eat, all the vegetables - get you healthy and stuff.”

But the free lunch program courtesy of the federal government has ended, and students who aren’t eligible for any other free or reduced program now have to pay.

“It’s an adjustment, but I think I can still handle it,” Samuel said. “Money’s not really a problem, but it kind of is a problem. But I can still handle it though.”

In addition, federal nutritional requirements are coming back.

“Menu planning and the fact that it’s hard to get a lot of the items you need to put on that menu is a whole other struggle in itself,” said District Child Nutrition Director Melissa Olsen.

Fortunately, one thing that hasn’t changed is the price. Lunch is still $2.50 and breakfast is $1.25.

“I didn’t want to raise prices on anybody,” Olsen said. “We’re still in the midst of chaos in the world, and I think raising the prices was not appropriate.”

Since the free school meal program ended, she has been scrambling to find other ways to serve students.

Olsen did just that with the four-year Community Eligibility Provision program, which is based on a percentage of families in the district that qualify for free meals.

“It gives us a chance to give our Pre-K through eighth 100 percent breakfast and lunch,” Olsen said.

To extend the program, the district needs more parents to fill out meal application forms.

“Our biggest fear was getting back to filling out those free and reduced forms, and could we get those done as we used to do because it was standard operating procedure,” said school superintendent Glen East. “In the filling out the forms, we have struggled. We’re not near to the percentage we would have had before COVID hit.”

More involvement could mean more financial help.

State officials will be examining the documentation next week, and the Gulfport District could be kicking off the CEP program by the end of the month.

Parents are urged to fill out those meal application forms, which can be picked up from their schools or can be filled out through the district’s child nutrition web page: https://www.gulfportschools.org/Page/3128

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