IMLAY CITY — Now more than ever, cash-strapped families are thankful for school lunch programs that are offered for free or at a reduced rate.
Local school officials in Imlay City have taken it one step further and now waive the reduced cost lunch fee. As they hoped, participation in the program has jumped and as an added bonus, the district is seeing extra revenues from government reimbursements.
Sandra Combs, director of the food service department, said the district has netted $13,000 in additional revenues in the first 60 days.
"It's a very positive thing," Combs said.
"What we've lost in revenue in paid meals we've made up for with money from the state."
After seeing numerous families struggle to pay, Combs asked the district to try out the waived fee. Reduced lunch rates were 40 cents and breakfast was 30 cents.
Children receiving a free or reduced breakfast grew from 20 percent last school year to 32 percent in the first four months of this school year. Participation in lunch went from 68 percent to 76 percent.
Imlay City Schools has waived their reduced lunch fee for students this year and seen an increase in participation in the program as a result.
Combs said the numbers will fluctuate throughout the year. Children from migrant families qualify automatically for free lunches but since a majority of them left the district last month, those numbers are down slightly.
Combs said that part of the reason participation is up is due to more marketing of the programs.
"But there are still people out there who don't know about it," she said.
"Parents can apply any time of the year."
The federal government reimburses the school district for the free and reduced meals based on participation rates.
They also set the eligibility guidelines. Each school year they are calculated using the federal income poverty guidelines.
For example, children in a household of four with an annual salary of $39,220 or less would be eligible for a reduced price meal. Those in a household of four with an annual salary of $27,560 or less would be eligible for a free meal.
Only one application per child is needed. Forms can be found in each of the schools' offices or in the kitchens.
Currently, elementary students pay $1.75 for lunch and $1.25 for breakfast. At the middle and high schools, lunch is $2.25 and breakfast is $1.25.
"Finding a way to cover the cost of reduced meals is but one more example of the ongoing commitment and dedication by our food service department to the welfare and well-being of our students and families," Superintendent Gary Richards said.