By Nancy Lindsey
There’s an old saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” but for Patrick County elementary school students, there will be a free breakfast next year.
Sue Washburn, director of school nutrition programs, said the school system has received a federal grant of $30,000—$5,000 for each elementary school—to provide breakfast for all elementary students.
The 2016-2017 school year is the first year Patrick County public schools have been eligible to receive the grant, Washburn said.
The Action for Healthy Kids School Breakfast Grant is available to school districts which have about 62% of their students eligible for free or reduced lunches, Washburn said.
The percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches vary among the six elementary schools, she said: the lowest is Stuart Elementary at 52.12%, and the highest is Blue Ridge Elementary at 64.91%. Other percentages are 61.61% at Woolwine Elementary, 59.52% at Meadows of Dan Elementary, 60.87% at Hardin Reynolds Memorial School, and 61.54% at Patrick Springs Primary.
Even though some of those numbers are slightly below the eligibility measure, Washburn said, “that should not put us in the red for the overall breakfast program.”
Washburn said she has heard criticism of federally-funded meals programs, with people saying that the taxpayers are still paying, but she maintains that the funds are spread across the whole United States, and taxpayers are paying throughout the country.
“If we qualify I think we should participate,” she said.
What the program means is that hungry children from families in which breakfast is not a priority can come to school and get something nourishing before they start classes, Washburn said.
“Every study shows, over and over, that a child who has breakfast does better in school,” she said, adding that the child is not suffering hunger pains and is more receptive to learning.
The breakfast program does not interrupt classes, she said, because there will be “snack and go” stations where a child can pick up a hand-held meal—such as a breakfast bar, juice and milk, or a chicken biscuit and a drink—and go on to class.
The grant will continue the following year if the program breaks even, Washburn said, and then will be funded for up to four years if it is sufficiently used by students.
Although the grant targets elementary school kids, high school students will also have access to free breakfasts, but the cost must be covered by non-federal funds, Washburn said.
Currently the average number of Patrick County High School students who pay for breakfasts is only nine per day, she said, while the number who receive free or reduced meals is 64.