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JCPS offering all students free breakfast and lunch

Elementary-aged students sit at a round table. Lunch boxes, and trays of food are on the table.
Jess Clark
Students at the J. Graham Brown School enjoy their lunch on Aug. 28, 2023.

All students in Jefferson County Public Schools can get breakfast and lunch for free at school now, no questions asked.

The entire school district now qualifies for the Community Eligibility Program. That’s a federally funded program that provides free meals to all students in a school, or group of schools, when at least 60% of students qualify for other federal assistance, such as food stamps.

Last year, only three JCPS schools didn’t qualify for school-wide free meals: The J. Graham Brown School, Lowe Elementary and duPont Manual High School.

Brown School principal Angela Parsons said the program is already having an impact. Earlier this month, a child arrived with nothing but berries in their lunchbox, she said.

“That student quickly ate that, and they were still hungry,” Parsons said. “With this news we were able to put that child through the lunch line, and they had access to a nutritious meal free of charge.”

The Brown School already provided free and reduced-price lunch to many low-income families under the National School Lunch Program. But Parsons said becoming part of the Community Eligibility Program means more families will have access, including those who may not meet the requirements for NSLP, but who are still struggling financially.

“This is going to create a lot more discretionary income for those households,” Parsons said.

District officials said making every child eligible also reduces the stigma of a student receiving a free lunch, while others pay.

Students in the cafeteria at Brown had mixed reviews of the lunch Monday, which consisted of a cheeseburger or barbecue sandwich, fries, salad, an apple and a fruit cup.

But everyone was a fan of the breakfast. Students said the morning meal usually included sweeter items, like Pop-Tarts, donuts, muffins, cinnamon rolls and something one elementary school student named Izzy described as a “chocolate sandwich.”

“That was really good, but it was really sweet,” Izzy said.

“The breakfast is really good for people who don’t have time to eat breakfast in the morning,” her friend Anders said, noting many families are rushed in the morning.

Terina Edington, assistant director of JCPS’ nutrition services department, is encouraging all students to check out what's on the menu each day. If students take three or more items, including a fruit or vegetable, the combination qualifies as a free meal.

“Even if they’ve brought something from home, come on through the line and see if there’s something there you want,” Edington said.

Students who want to take fewer than three items will have to pay for them “a la carte” because the district only gets reimbursed by the federal government if students take a whole meal.

The program will remain in effect for four years.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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