Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Schools Offer Free Meals to Students

Vian and Sallisaw Schools, and other schools in the county, are participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) free breakfast and lunch program for students.

In Vian Schools, the entire student population, counted at 936 at the end of the last school year, will get free breakfasts and lunches during the 2016-17 school year. This is Vian Schools first year in the program.

In Sallisaw, the program has been expanded to include both Liberty and Eastside Elementary Schools and Sallisaw Middle School. This is Sallisaw’s second year in the program.

“We are excited about our kiddos getting free meals,” said Vian School Superintendent Victor Salcedo. He said the system’s child nutrition specialist, Delaina Risley, collected the information and did the paperwork to apply for the program. 

Risley said the program, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), is based on the number of certified students in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps individuals and families get the food needed to stay healthy. The poverty level of an area is also added into the equation.

Based on the low income and poverty level numbers, Risley said, “Our school board decided it was in the students’ best interest to offer free meals to all our students. We feel strongly about our students’ nutrition.”

The program continues for four years, but is reviewed every April, Risley explained. If numbers remain the same, then the program may be extended for a year.

Risley explained that the cost of the meals is tabulated by the school and sent to the State Department of Education, which arranges for the school to be reimbursed and distributes the monies.

Risley said school officials hope to see more children eating their meals at the school. The more children participating, the more likely the program will be continued.

This is only the second year Oklahoma has participated in the CEP, and it is the second year Sallisaw Schools have participated.

Sallisaw School Superintendent Scott Farmer said the elementary schools were in the program last year, and the program this year includes the elementary and middle schools.

Officials at both Vian and Sallisaw Schools said that, with the state’s crisis in education funding, this free meals program is helping school budgets.

The first day of classes for both Vian and Sallisaw School students is Aug. 11.

According to the USDA web site, the CEP allows schools and local educational agencies with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students to promote access to healthy food and reduce administrative burdens on schools and families. More than 18,000 schools currently participate in CEP, which is now in its second year of nationwide implementation offering nutritious meals at no cost to 8.5 million students.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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