Missouri, Kansas School Districts to Receive Free Lunches

Students in the Missouri and Kansas school districts of Kansas City and Hickman Mills will receive free school lunches under a new federal provision issued by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

"This is huge," said Valerie Nicholson-Watson, president and CEO of Harvesters, the food bank which will provide the free lunches. "I am so thankful both districts have moved forward with this … simply feeding hungry children."

Of the estimated 18,000 students within the Kansas City school district, 99% qualify for free or reduced lunches. Eighty-five percent of Hickman Mills school students qualify. The program targets communities where at least 40% of students are already receiving free lunches.

Current nutrition programs strive to get school lunches to all children, ensuring that families who truly need the assistance receive it in a discreet manner. However, the program does not always work the way it should. Students must plug in an identification code that notifies the cashier if they receive free meals or if they have a balance owed.

"Our policy has been to make sure everyone eats and then try to collect from parents," said Leah Schmidt, who directs nutrition services for Hickman Mills. "We've had some children with $200 or more (past due) on their accounts."

The new program will take care of this, allowing all children access to healthy school lunches without the stigma of being asked to pay when they cannot afford to do so, writes Joe Robertson for The Kansas City Star. There will be no forms to fill out, all students will qualify independent of family income.

Kansas City officials decided to use the program after receiving pressure from the state to raise student's test scores.

"Nutrition is taken care of, so there's no excuse for them but to learn and pay attention in class," said parent Andy Russell.

Healthy lunches have been proven to reduce school absences and increase academic performance. Students are more likely be able to focus when they are not thinking about a missed meal, reports Haley Harrison for TV stationKMBC.

"This is a foundational part of a student's well-being," Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green said. "Many of the children in the district are counting on us for their breakfast and their lunch. This is a powerful program."

The USDA reports that one in 10 households within Kansas and Missouri are considered to be food insecure, meaning they live in conditions where meals are not consistently eaten.

Other districts are looking into the provision, but are finding it hard to validate the cost, as so many more of their students pay for lunches. Districts can also take advantage of a second provision allowing them to offer school breakfast at no cost to all students.

The provision is already in place in seven states.

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