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New Program Makes Free Meals Available for Missouri School Kids

PHOTO: While breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, too many Missouri kids still go without. There is hope that could change, with a successful federal program expanding to the state starting this fall. Photo credit: Infographe_Elle/morguefile.com.
PHOTO: While breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, too many Missouri kids still go without. There is hope that could change, with a successful federal program expanding to the state starting this fall. Photo credit: Infographe_Elle/morguefile.com.
July 31, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – This fall, a new program available in Missouri will offer nutritious breakfasts and lunches for free to all students at qualifying schools – as long as administrators do their homework by the end of August.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) applies to schools in areas with a high concentration of children receiving assistance, but the free meals will apply to all families, regardless of their income.

Karen Wooton, coordinator of food and nutrition services with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, says the program will remove many obstacles.

"There would be no stigma whatsoever attached to a child receiving a meal at a school, because they'd all be eating free," explains Wooton. "There's a reduction in paperwork for sure, at the school level; a reduction of paperwork for the parents – they wouldn't have to fill out the free or reduced-price meal applications."

To qualify, more than 40 percent of a school's students must be certified to receive free and reduced-price meals. School leaders must apply by Aug. 31, on the Department of Education's website.

According to the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, one out of every four families in the state with children faces food insecurity at some point during the month. Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford says this program can help fill some of those holes.

"You can't really feed your family all month long on a food-stamp budget, you're going to run out," says Mott Oxford. "So, every meal that a child has at school helps stretch those dollars more, so that families get more nutrition at home."

CEP was piloted in several states last year, and was found to increase participation in school breakfast programs by as much as 25 percent. The state estimates more than 125 districts across Missouri are eligible for the program.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO