Area students qualify for free school meals

Published 4:55 pm Friday, September 2, 2022

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow of schools is encouraging families to find out if their child or children qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunches. However, three local school systems are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision for all schools in their division.

The Community Eligibility Provision provides free meals to students without the need to submit free meal applications. This provision is under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed by former President Barack Obama. Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward County Public Schools are all participating in this program.

“School meals are important sources of nutrition for students and help reduce food insecurity in the commonwealth,” Balow said in a press release.

This program is division-wide for all three school divisions. It includes a free healthy breakfast and lunch every school day of the 2022-2023 school year with no application process needed. This only covers school meals and does not include snacks, beverages or additional items.

“We are very grateful to Dr. Keeler, Division Superintendent, for assisting in this process,” said J.B. Heslip, director of food services for Buckingham County Public Schools. “This is a great blessing that is provided to us, that allows us to feed each and every student at no cost to Buckingham County families… As we all know, well-fed students behave and perform better. ”

According to Heslip, this program not only aligns with the division’s mission “to provide good, quality food and a smile to every student” but also Sarah Steely, Director of No Kid Hungry Virginia, who said, “school meals are critical to supporting academic success and well-being.”

The school divisions sent out a letter at the beginning of the school year informing families that they would be participating in the Community Eligibility Provision for this year.

This provision for this school year comes after the emergency federal flexibility for the 2021-2022 school year expired, which provided free meals for students during the pandemic. Now, schools are reverting to students paying for their school meals and other pre-pandemic practices.

Even though many school divisions in the commonwealth are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision there are still many that are not. Families whose children are attending other school divisions can contact their local school nutrition department to see if they are participating in the provision or if they need to send in an application for free or reduced breakfast and lunches. The qualification for free lunches has changed to families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level instead of the previous qualification of at or below 130% of the poverty level.