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Free Lunch Option for VA Schools with No Strings Attached

PHOTO: Virginia schools in areas of poverty are being offered a new way to serve school lunch and breakfast. They have the option of offering free meals to all students, and families don't have to fill out applications. Photo credit: USDA
PHOTO: Virginia schools in areas of poverty are being offered a new way to serve school lunch and breakfast. They have the option of offering free meals to all students, and families don't have to fill out applications. Photo credit: USDA
May 14, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. - Free lunch without the paperwork is being offered to schools in high-poverty areas in Virginia starting this fall.

The option allows schools to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge - and it means schools don't have to deal with meal accounts, swipe cards or process free-lunch applications.

Sarah Okos, policy director at The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said the benefits make financial sense for schools.

"More importantly, kids can rely on getting two nutritious meals a day," she said. "What's more, because all students are eating meals at no cost, Community Eligibility works to reduce stigma and it allows for better integration of meals into the school day."

Schools in areas where 40 percent or more of the population are living in poverty are eligible to apply for the new Community Eligibility Program.

Okos said one in nine children in Virginia doesn't know for sure where his or her next meal is coming from. She said hunger is a proven distraction from learning.

"Focusing on other things can be a real challenge," she said, "and this is especially true for our children, and the results can really hurt them in school."

Schools are reimbursed for the costs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools in other states that implemented the program in previous years saw breakfast and lunch participation increase by up to 25 percent.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - VA