One month after losing eligibility to offer free lunch to all students in Eden and Johnson, the Lamoille North school district is making moves to fill the hunger gap.
This week, Lamoille North began offering after-school meals at every school, paid for through USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program.
“We anticipate feeding around 500 students, roughly 28 percent of our student population,” said Karyl Kent, director of nutritional services for Lamoille North. “For some students experiencing food insecurity at home, this may be their last meal of the day.”
The meals — available Monday through Thursday — consist of five nutritious components: whole grains, proteins, fruit, vegetable and milk.
The meals must be eaten on site and cannot be taken home, per USDA rules; however, athletes who are traveling for an away game are allowed to bring the meals on the bus.
The district covers Belvidere, Cambridge, Eden, Hyde Park, Johnson and Waterville.
Schools within the district are eligible for the program because of the after-school programs available at Lamoille Union High School, and because more than 50 percent of high school students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Students do not need to participate in an after-school activity to receive the meals.
While the new meal program will feed the district’s hungriest students, Kent said she wishes the students could take food home.
“I’d love to offer grab-and-go meals, but we can’t do that under this program,” Kent said.
In response, the district opened a food shelf this week at the high school.
“The initial question came from a student who came to me and said, ‘You have all of this leftover food from lunch and there are a lot of students who are hungry after school,’” Kent said. “Then, another student came and wanted to do a story about nutrition for the school newspaper, and it just struck me that these students are really concerned about their peers. They are the boots on the ground, so to speak, and they have a much better finger on the pulse than I do.”
The food pantry includes a refrigerator and freezer so food can be preserved, and the district is working with Salvation Farms in Morristown, which is donating fresh fruit and vegetables.
In the long term, Kent said, the district plans to hold several food drives throughout the school year to keep the food shelf stocked. In the near term, there will be a fundraising meal tonight, Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park.
The meal begins at 5:30 p.m. with homemade bread, cheese and live music. The meal will begin at 6 p.m., and will include pork from the school’s agriculture program. Admission is by donation, with a suggestion of $10.
For the past five years, elementary school students in Eden and Johnson have received free lunch, regardless of household income. That is because a certain percentage of the students’ households receive benefits through such programs as Reach Up and 3SquaresVT.
However, the schools no longer meet that eligibility threshold, which means parents need to apply for their children to receive free or reduced lunch.
As of Sept. 27, the district had received 687 applications, Kent said. Under new guidelines rolled out July 1 by the Agency of Education, the annual income threshold for free lunch is $33,475 for a family of four; eligibility for reduced-price lunch is $47,638. In Vermont, the state supplements the difference in cost between free lunch and reduced-price lunch, meaning that reduced-price lunch is free to families as well.
Parents can apply for free or reduced-price lunch online at lnsu.org/free-and-reduced-lunch-application.php.