Signup has started: Area schools urge parents to apply for free school meals

The window for signing up for a school meal program has begun and area school district officials are urging eligible families to apply to make sure their children are fed in the coming school year.

Changes in the federally funded free and reduced school meals program has seen the recent elimination of all school children being eligible for the school-time meals as they were during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years under the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s waiver for requirements expired June 30.

But starting yesterday, Friday July 15, low-income school families who are financially eligible for school meals can begin submitting applications with their local school district – via the school system’s websites – to sign up for 2022-2023 school year, said local school officials.

Lakota Schools, which is the largest district in Butler County with 17,000-students, have the most participants in the free and reduced cost school meals program.

“With the USDA’s free meals waiver for public school food service programs expiring … it’s crucial that our families complete the meal benefits application for the upcoming school year,” said Lakota spokeswoman Betsy Fuller.

“Regardless of whether or not a family previously qualified for this program, applications must be completed on an annual basis,” she said.

Maintaining proper nutrition for school students is crucial, said Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for Middletown Schools, and its importance dwarfs most other school-related issues.

“All children deserve access to food so they can come to class focused and fueled for the day,” said Beadle.

In the last decade, even prior to COVID-19′s onset in March 2020, increasing numbers of schools have used federal and state monies to expand their offerings of schools meals, often through partnerships with local food pantries, churches and other community organizations.

Some area districts, including Middletown, Fairfield and Hamilton, have also created summer meal programs for eligible students where district-owned food trucks deliver hot meals during lunch hours.

“In Middletown Schools, no child goes hungry thanks to the district’s participation in the free and reduced lunch program,” said Beadle, cited the USDA’s household income guidelines, which categorize the city population as having enough low-income families to allow 100% eligibility.

As a result, no Middletown school families have to sign up their school-age children.

Middletown is the only school district in Butler County with 100% eligibility.

“All Middletown schools qualify for free and reduced lunch and breakfast, regardless of a student’s economic status,” she said.

Area school officials urge school parents and guardians to check with their local public school district websites for more information of the meal programs and how to sign up prior to the start of classes, which begin mid-to-late August for most local districts.

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