Special report: When a school lunch is the best meal of the day

While many parents struggle to make ends meet at home, they’re relying more and more on their children’s school to provide them with a nutritious – and cheap – meal each week day.

Ensuring that children are receiving not only a full meal but a nutritious one, the Norwich City School district has joined forces with the Healthy School act and has adopted a new wellness policy to provide students access to healthier school meals, snacks and beverages; eliminate the cost to students receiving a reduced price lunch or breakfast; and increase the state reimbursement for lunch and breakfast.

On one hand as schools try to lessen the cost for families, Norwich Schools Food Service Director Jackie Jenks says she has found it difficult to keep the costs low when the school is trying to buy more fresh foods. According to the Chenango County United Way, last year alone 45 percent of Chenango county’s children received free or reduced breakfast and/or lunch. The guidelines families are required to meet to receive this benefit vary between districts and can be found in the September newsletter from each district.

“Everything seems to be going up, except for people’s paychecks,” said Jenks about how families are struggling to make ends met.

Jenks also mentioned the wages in the county are not as high as some of the surrounding counties or states and this also may be a factor as to why more children are becoming eligible for free or reduced meals. “This way at least we can help to ease the burden a little,” she said.

Monitoring the food intake at Gibson Primary school, food service worker Rose Mott says her role has changed over the past few years. She said not only does she ring the children’s meals up, she now checks to make sure each child has what is called a “type A” meal, including all of essentials in each food group. Mott, who has served in the school lunch line for the past 33 years, said she has seen a steady increase in students receiving free and reduced meals.

As school lets out for summer vacation, each June for over a decade the Norwich school system has taken feeding the children in their district one step further. The district is enrolled in the summer meal program through the USDA and it is open to children up to age 18. Each summer one of the school buildings is open for children to come and eat breakfast and lunch free of charge.

Food Service Coordinator Kim Corkin is responsible for more rural districts such as Unadilla Valley, Sherburne-Earlville, Afton and Greene, and says her numbers throughout the county are in-line with one another. She states 48 percent of students at UV and S-E receive free or reduced meals while 41 percent in Greene and 56 percent of students receive the benefit in Afton.

Corkin said the summer food initiative includes offering meals to all of the summer school students, but as most districts ate located in such rural area, getting the students there for two meals in the summer is not always feasible.

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© 2018 Snyder Communications/The Evening Sun
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