Free meals for all mean no more lunch-money worries, or breakfast either

Carlos Mejia and Sophia Johnson chat over lunch

Districtwide, all students are receiving free breakfast and lunch this school year, and they say it’s a big benefit to families.

“It’s helpful because a lot of people don’t have a lot of money and they have to use money for other things,” said Wyoming Junior High School ninth-grader Carlos Mejia as he ate a healthy lunch of leafy-green salad and fresh fruit. Around him, in the cafeteria, students noshed pizza, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese and submarine sandwiches.

“Now, my parents don’t have to worry about paying for me,” said ninth-grader Hayde Rodriguez.

Joining Grand Rapids and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, approximately 4,400 students at Wyoming’s four elementary schools, the fifth- and sixth-grade Intermediate School, the junior high and Wyoming High School now have the opportunity to eat school meals at no charge. Also, Godwin Heights Public Schools, which has already offered free breakfast and lunch for kindergarten through eighth-grade students, is expanding free meals to all high schoolers.

Mike Slager, Wyoming and Godwin Heights food service director, said Wyoming has become eligible through the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. CEP allows schools with a high percentage of low-income familie to provide all meals free without collecting household school meal applications.

Food service workers Cheri Arend and Debbie Sheick serve up lunches, now free for all students

Feeding Hungry Students

“I anticipate we will serve more children,” Slager said. “It erases any sort of a stigma that kids who are eating lunch in the cafeteria are the free-lunch kids. Clearly it is going to enable folks to have more disposable income.”

About 73 percent of students districtwide qualified for free or reduced-price lunch last school year. According to 2018 data, Wyoming Public Schools served 52,417 breakfasts schoolwide, of which 36,140 were free and 5,016 were at a reduced price. The district served 62,805 lunches, 45,242 of them free and 6,669 reduced.

Full-priced lunches were $2.75 for fifth- through 12th-grade students and $2.25 for kindergartners through fourth-graders. Reduced lunches were 40 cents. Breakfast was already free for kindergarten through ninth-grade students and $1.50 for high schoolers.

Principal Jon Blackburn said some families who did not qualify for free or reduced lunch were right on the cusp of qualifying. Also, students would run out of money in their school meal accounts and not reload it.

“This will have a huge impact,” Blackburn said. “Some families were so excited. … It is nice to know every kid will have access to a lunch.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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