January 20, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.

Students participating in free or reduced lunch programs increasing; apply at any time

Students participating in free or reduced lunch programs increasing; apply at any time
Students participating in free or reduced lunch programs increasing; apply at any time

People who work at raising money for business ventures are familiar with the term angel fund; but at Taylors Falls Elementary School if you were to hear mention of an "angel fund" its meaning would be very different from the corporate world.

The school's parent-volunteer group counts among its projects, raising money for a fund used to keep students from going in debt to eat. A recent garage sale boosted Taylors Falls' angel fund by about $700, according to Chisago Lakes Food Service Director Kathy Burrill. She says there are kids who just need a little help paying for meals now and then; in addition to the growing roster of students enrolled in the federally subsidized free and reduced nutrition program.

In Chisago Lakes 22 percent of the student population is on the free and reduced nutrition program.

Two years ago the district reported a 16 percent participation rate.

Free school meals or meals provided at reduced prices, are made possible through the federal nutrition program. Eligibility is income based. The Chisago Lakes and North Branch Districts will each get anywhere from nearly $300,000 to $400,000 annually, from the federal government to support the program.

At the start of every school year a mailing is sent to all district households containing application forms. Families who are already enrolled just have to re-connect with the district within 45 days of the new school year.

Applications are available at any time during the year, so if your financial circumstances have changed drastically from when school started in September you can still look into applying.

Usage of both free and reduced meal benefits has increased in this down economic cycle, Burrill added. Student participation in free breakfast at area schools is also on the rise. She thinks this could be due, in part, because reduced price kids now can eat the morning meal at no-charge. But there's also expanded breakfast food offerings and more kids seem to be taking to the concept, Burrill said.

Use of free and reduced nutrition programs has also increased in the North Branch Schools.

According to the 2009-2010 audit, North Branch did 94,156 free meals in 2010 at all sites. Just five years ago, there were 73,214 free meals in 2005.

North Branch's reduced price meal count was 35,411 in 2005 and this jumped to 61,152 in 2010. And, this is in the context of a shrinking North Branch student population.

Burrill says the Chisago Lakes food service has an electronic calling system that notifies the parent or guardian when the student's lunch account is in the red.

"We let them go three meals in the hole, but we would never take a meal away from a child," Burrill added. She stressed that as the child travels through the lunch line and gives their account PIN number there's no difference between processing a free and reduced account and a regular pay account.

If the meal payment account is not being replenished and nobody gets in touch with the school, a social worker contacts the family and they work together to determine eligibility for programs like free and reduced.


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