Free meals now offered for many FWCS students

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) -  How does free breakfast and lunch five days a week sound? For many FWCS students, that’s an option now. Monday evening, the FWCS School Board approved a new program. It will offer free meals to all elementary and middle school students in the district. Board members voted unanimously to approve the measure. They said it has many benefits, but above all ensures all students will have access to healthy and nutritious options.

“We shouldn’t have food and when kids are going to be fed as an issue that gets in the way of our learning. So, this is a way to just stop having that as a conversation,” said FWCS Superintendent, Dr. Wendy Robinson.

40 percent of students in the school district must qualify for free meals to make the district eligible for the federal program. Of the 51 schools under FWCS, 44 will now offer free breakfast and lunch for all students. The list also includes Towles Intermediate School and Ward Education Center.

“This is a program that’s been offered to eligible school districts like ours, and we think it benefits all of our elementary and middle school students. We’re thrilled to be able to provide that for them. We thought it was in our students best reason to participate in the program for that very reason, to give them healthy breakfast and lunch every day for every student. There really was no question mark as to whether we should do it or not,” said FWCS Chief Financial Officer, Kathy Friend.

Until now, students have been required to apply for free or reduced lunches. That process is something Dr. Robinson said became very tedious for both parents and students.

“We believe that meals and breakfast and lunch are two of the most important meals of the day for children in order to enhance their learning. When we were given the opportunity to stop taking parents and students through what really becomes a very complicated process to determine if they would get free lunch or not or reduced lunch. We just believe there are better ways to spend our time and that we can assure ourselves that students for two times a day all students in elementary and middle school will receive nutritious meals.” said Robinson.

This program also eliminates any potential stigma attached to the paperwork.

“It might make people feel more comfortable because there won’t be any identification of what a student’s income level is or anything like that. There’d be no guessing at this point since everyone would be eligible for the same program,” said Friend.

Some may wonder where the district is finding the money to fund such a program. It’s actually already included in the budget.

“Because we run a really efficient nutrition services program, we’re able to do this program with the revenues we currently receive and so this won’t cost us anything additional from the general fund or any other resources that we’re providing to students in the classroom or anything like that. This is strictly coming out of our nutritionist services program, and I think that’s really important for the public to understand,” said Friend.

The meals will also comply with the USDA guidelines that are already in place.  Students don’t have to participate in the program, and middle school students can still purchase a la carte meals if they want to.

Implementing the change is something the board said benefits all families, no matter what their situations may be.

“I think sometimes people think that folks are always trying to figure out how to get something for nothing. Our parents are hardworking folks. In today’s economy, people struggle to try to figure out how to make absolutely certain that their children are getting nutritious meals. On the other hand, we also have working parents who are not necessarily there when their children leave for school in the morning,” said Robinson.

As of right now, high schools are not included in the program, but that could change at any time throughout the four year contract.

“We’ll consider adding high school later if it turns out that we can handle it financially, but at this point, the numbers don’t quite work out to allow us to do high school,” said Friend.

Districts in Indianapolis and South Bend are also adopting the program. NewsChannel 15 reached out to the other three Allen County districts on whether or not they plan to participate, but haven’t heard back.

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