RBC | Any parent or school teacher can tell you that before a child is able to learn, their primary needs, including nutrition, must be met. As local schools recognized the growing number of hungry students they have instituted a variety of programs to help battle student hunger.
“It is very difficult for a hungry and/or improperly nourished student to learn,” said Meeker School Superintendent Chris Selle. “It is our obligation to provide an environment in which learning can occur at optimal levels and the food service program is an integral part of meeting that obligation.”
Rangely School Superintendent Matt Scoggins added, “There is a lot of research that supports the idea that well-fed students perform better, but in the end, it is about taking care of our kids. We make sure if a student shows up hungry that they are taken care of and then make sure all students have access to a good nutritious lunch. For some, this is their only solid meal for the day.”
Free and Reduced Lunch
The Meeker School District currently has 33 percent of students receiving the free or reduced lunch rates, while Rangely has 32 percent.
In Meeker the full rate for lunch at the elementary and middle schools is $3. It’s $4 at the high school. Rangely charges just $2.60 at Parkview Elementary and $2.75 at the Junior/Senior High. The reduced rate for qualifying families is $0.40.
The program is part of the National School Lunch Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which reimburses schools for the free or reduced lunches they provide. Meals must meet the federal nutrition guidelines to qualify.
In order for a family to be eligible for free lunch they must earn below 130 percent of the federal poverty level. To receive the reduced rate families must be between 130-185 percent of the poverty level. A household of four earning less than $46,435 will qualify for some level of assistance.
Both districts offer some type of breakfast program to help students start the day off right. At Meeker Elementary it presents as a traditional breakfast meal which students eat before the start of the school day. At the middle and high schools it is part of “Cowboy Time” which is a mid-morning break between classes. Students who are eligible for the free and reduced lunch rates also receive a discounted rate for breakfast, however, even the full rate of $1.75 is reasonable.
Parkview Elementary offers items in the morning for $0.50 each. They encourage students to take something warm, a piece of fruit and milk for a total of $1.50. If a staff member sees a student in need, they send them to the lunch room and they eat free. The students at Parkview have an annual fundraising event to raise support for the program, and there are a few folks who donate to the cause every year.
The Rio Blanco Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) recognized that within the county there were a growing number of students whose nutritional needs during school were being met by district programs but still found themselves hungry on the weekends. In response they started the Backpack Program which provides eligible students with a bag of nonperishable food items each Thursday before the end of the school day. The program currently serves 15 students in Rangely and five in Meeker, however that number is expected to grow as the school year progresses and more students are referred.
Funding for the food and packs primarily comes from donations. For the last two years the program has received a $3,500 grant from the Andeavor Foundation. The Western Rio Blanco Recreation District has also contributed food items, along with a few community members who make monthly donations.
By JEN HILL | firstname.lastname@example.org