free school lunches

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COLUMBIA – The number of eligible students for free and reduced-price lunches in some mid-Missouri school districts has risen in the past five years.

This year, seven schools in Columbia are providing all students with free meals during in-session school days through the Community Eligibility Provision program because 70 percent or more of their students qualified.

To qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision program, schools must have 40 percent or more of its students ready to receive free meals.

Executive Director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri Lindsay Lopez says the amount of free meals given show the level of poverty in parts of the community.

“Those children who qualify for free and reduced school lunch really are a good indicator of those children who are struggling with hunger,” Lopez said.

Blue Ridge Elementary School is one of the six elementary schools that began offering free meals to its students this year. In 2011, 71.9 percent of its students qualified for the program. In 2015, before the program began, 84.2 percent of its students qualified. Other elementary schools participating include Alpha Hart Lewis, Benton STEM, Blue Ridge, Derby Ridge, West Boulevard and the Center of Responsive Education. Douglass High School is also participating in the program.

“For those children that received lunch at school and breakfast at school, that’s a lifeline to them. That provides that source of nutrition during the school week,” Lopez said.

The Food Bank also offers Buddy Packs, which has meals children can prepare for themselves on the weekends.

The public can see year-to-year statistics about school’s increase in free or reduced-price lunches in the state on the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education’s website.