Lunch free for all at certain Hollister schools

Students get their bean and cheese burrito on a whole wheat tortilla, carrots and celery, apple slices and one percent milk during lunch earlier this year at Sunnyslope Elementary School.

Parents at certain Hollister schools aren’t sending lunch money with students this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared seven of the district’s eleven schools as Community Eligibility Provision sites, meaning lunch and breakfast have no cost for all students at the campuses as part of an effort to encourage students in high-poverty areas to take advantage of carefully balanced, nutritious meals.
“The kids that pay sometimes look down on the (meal) program as it being charity or something,” said Ann Pennington, the district manager of student nutrition. “If everybody can eat for free, that kind of eliminates that awkwardness so everyone can just go get lunch.”
School administrators hope that making meals free to all students— regardless of family income—at campuses in high poverty areas will improve meal participation, simplify paperwork at a local level, and improve attendance and academic performance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture piloted the program in other states for several years but launched it nationwide for the first time this year, providing the option for San Benito County schools. For a district to qualify sites for the program, it must show at least 40 percent of the students at a school–or a group of schools–qualified for free breakfast and lunch last school year.
Students qualify as part of the 40 percent if they receive free meals because they are homeless, migrants, foster children or part of the Head Start program. Additionally, they could be recipients of CalFresh, California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWorks) or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, according to the California Department of Education website.
The schools that qualified for the program were Calaveras School, the Accelerated Achievement Academy, Gabilan Hills School, Hollister Dual Language Academy, R.O. Hardin Elementary, Sunnyslope School and the district’s only charter school: Hollister Prep School.
“Some kids would rather not eat–especially as they get older–than be identified as a student who qualifies,” said Gary McIntire, the district superintendent.
As a result of the new program, participation in school meals at the seven sites has increased by 8 to 9 percent, Pennington said. At the other schools in the district, students can still get free or reduced price meals if they submit a special application and qualify.
The designation of district schools as Community Eligibility Provision sites
follows a decision trustees made last year to have the student nutrition department pick up the cost of reduced-price lunches, so students qualifying for discounts could eat for free.
“Actually, it’s a movement that’s been happening in the United States,” Pennington said. “And it’s definitely up to the school district.”
The reduced meal price was 30 cents for breakfast, instead of the regular price of $1, and 40 cents for lunch instead of the normal $2.50, Pennington said.
“They decided it would be a good path to try to see if we could get more kids to eat,” Pennington said.
Encouraging students to pick up school breakfasts and lunches means they’ll get carefully balanced, nutritional meals, which the superintendent appreciates.
“There are so many very positive advantages of it,” McIntire said. “One of the things that always stands as a barrier to kids not having adequate nutrition is they have an opportunity but they don’t take advantage of it.”
On a practical level, Michelle Bingman, the President of the Gabilan Hills Parent Club is seeing more youth in the school food lines.
“There’s definitely more participation in the lunch,” Bingman said.
She is also seeing more students take lunches from home and supplement them with school foods. During the special Thanksgiving meal lunch, she encouraged students to join the lunch lines and pick up a slice of pumpkin pie.
“I’m seeing some kids take both or if a friend doesn’t want the apple or the orange or the banana, then another kid will take it,” Bingman said.
Schools qualifying for the Community Eligibility Provision:
Calaveras School
Accelerated Achievement Academy
Gabilan Hills School
Hollister Dual Language Academy
R.O. Hardin Elementary
Sunnyslope School
Hollister Prep School (district’s charter school)
Schools not qualifying for the Community Eligibility Provision:
Marguerite Maze Middle School
Rancho San Justo Middle School
Cerra Vista School
Ladd Lane School
Price of a regular meal:
Breakfast: $1
Lunch: $2.50

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