March 26 • 04:55 PM

Free breakfast for Imlay students

Participation in program soars, boosts revenues

December 23, 2009
IMLAY CITY — The school district continues to build on their progressive approach to feeding kids. Just last year, the schools waived their reduced breakfast and lunch fees for students and saw participation soar.

Their newest plan? Offer free breakfast to the entire student body. The school board okayed the request from food service director Sandy Combs at their Dec. 14 meeting.

When kids return from winter break next month, they'll be able to stop in the cafeteria on their way to class and, at no cost, grab a bagel, bowl of cereal, Pop Tart or pancake on a stick.

"We will probably come out ahead (financially) and feed more students than before," Combs said.

Borland Elementary students grab a quick breakfast—including a pancake on a stick—on Thursday in the school’s cafeteria. More than half of the school’s children already qualify for free meals; and come January, the district will widen meal service and institute a universal breakfast program. photo by Maria Brown.
The district estimates they'll serve an additional 38,000 breakfasts from January through June as a result of the new program and consequently see their revenues increase by $42,000 through federal reimbursements.

Combs and Business Manager Amy Swantek estimate their breakfast reimbursements will top out at $101,720 for the remainder of the school year, compared to the $92,771 the schools took in over the same period last year—a difference of $42,406. Reimbursements per meal are $1.74 for free students, $1.44 for reduced and 26 cents for all others.

Breakfast participation doubled in the last two months at the high school where Combs rolled out a pilot program. She promised to give the entire school free breakfast if the soccer team won their regional match, which they did.

Typically, they serve 200 meals every morning. The first day of the pilot program, 375 were served and the numbers continued to grow from there.

Up until now, the cost of breakfast was $1.25 per student, per day.

"Recent studies show a link between nutrition and learning. A hungry child cannot learn. A nutritious breakfast helps students be more alert so they can actively participate in class," Combs said in a letter to parents.

Aside from financial issues, Combs also notes that eating breakfast at home isn't always possible due to time constraints.

It was more than a year ago that school officials decided to waive reduced breakfast (30 cents) and lunch (40 cents) fees. Combs reported that within the first 60 days of that program, the district netted an additional $13,000 in revenues. Last school year (2008-09), 32 percent of the student population received a reduced or free breakfast and 76 percent received lunch.

Eligibility for free or reduced meals is based on family income. For the current school year, children in a household of four with an annual salary of $40,793 are eligible for reduced meals; an annual salary of $28,665 makes them eligible for free meals.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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