Stanly County Schools encourages parents to sign students up for free, reduced lunch, as universal access ends

Published 9:48 am Thursday, August 18, 2022

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Stanly County Schools is encouraging eligible parents to sign up online for free and reduced lunch for their children as soon as possible for the upcoming school year.

The district has been busy processing applications over the past several weeks and has sent out around 4,500 letters to families who have applied, the majority of whom get accepted into the free and reduced lunch program, and families who were automatically included because their children attend schools where breakfast and lunch is served at no cost, according to Stanly County Schools Child Nutrition Director Makayla Mabry.

The school system wants families to apply by Aug. 29 so students will not be charged for any meals they receive once school begins.

Even though there is no official deadline to apply, “we want the forms filled out sooner than later of course because it doesn’t kick in until the forms are processed,” said Superintendent Jarrod Dennis.

Children in families whose incomes are at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line are eligible to receive a free lunch, while those in families whose incomes are 130 percent to 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.

Families don’t need to apply if their students attend schools in the district eligible for Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. These include all of the elementary schools, along with Albemarle Middle, Albemarle High and Stanly Academy Learning Center.

The district is encouraging families to apply because for the first time in more than two years, there will no longer be universal access to meals, which could impact millions of students across the country.

A federal waiver that made school breakfasts and lunches free to students regardless of their family’s income, which began in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, was not renewed in Congress and as a result has expired. It could impact around 10 million children, including many in Stanly, who came to rely on the free meals.

“I think it was very, very beneficial,” Mabry said. “I know lots of students were able to eat, even if they weren’t fond of what the food was those days, so they weren’t hungry throughout the rest of the day.”

The key going forward, officials said, is letting families know universal access to meals has ended and families have to apply for students to be part of the free and reduced lunch program, just like they did before the pandemic.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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