FALL RIVER — It’s official: Each and every Fall River Public Schools student will receive free school breakfast and lunches next year.
Without discussion, the Fall River School Committee voted unanimously to join the federal free school meal program known as the Community Eligibility Provision, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers to high-poverty communities.
“The federal government is now subsidizing the entire lunch service,” said Superintendent Matthew Malone. “It’s a no-brainer for us. We qualify and this is going to be, in the long run, much better for the system.”
Malone said the free breakfast and lunch program will make sure that all students are full and fed so they can focus on academics. The program also gets rid of the stigma that can be associated with getting free lunch, said Malone.
“There will no longer be any lunch shaming now," he said. "No kid will ever be denied food."
Schools and districts qualify for free student meals through the Community Eligibility Provision if at least 60 percent of students come from poor families, based on criteria including income and whether families receive government benefits, Malone said.
“If you get above 60 [percent] you’re invited into the program,” Malone said.
About 65 percent of Fall River students already receive free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Families had to submit paperwork in order to apply for that program, which Malone said was a nightmare for administrators to collect and verify.
One benefit the Community Eligibility Provision offers is the elimination of paperwork. All students will automatically receive free breakfast and lunch regardless of their families' income levels.
Malone said district administrators had been working on joining the program for a few years, but are moving forward with it now after confirming that grant funding for other school programming would not be cut if the district joined the federal free lunch and breakfast program.
“For several years Fall River has toyed with this idea,” Malone said. “Being part of this does not hurt us in any way, shape or form.”
The cost of a school lunch is about $2.75, said Malone, meaning the family of a student who previously paid full cost for lunch could save up to $495 a year on that meal alone.
While full meals for breakfast and lunch will be free for all students, Malone said a la carte menu items such as cookies and snacks will still cost money.
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