Yes, there is a free lunch

Don’t tell the students of Olney Independent School District that there’s no such thing as a free lunch: next year, every student will enjoy a free lunch – and breakfast too thanks to the OISD’s Board of Trustees.

The school board expanded a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provides free meals to lower-income families to include everyone, for a reasonable cost for the school year, said Board President Summer Branum. Administrators have been crunching numbers and working toward expanding the program to include all students, pre-kindergarten through high school, regardless of income for about a year, she said.

The board decided to pull the trigger on the free lunch program at its May 27 meeting because “we like the idea of making things a little easier for families in Olney,” she said.

“Our income levels haven’t caught up with inflation and you feel it the most at the grocery store,” she said. “To the extent that the District can do something to help families out where there is one less thing they have to worry about … that’s what we are hoping to achieve with this. It is a small sacrifice for the district but could have a big impact on our kids and families.”

The USDA program pays the district about 80 percent of the costs of the meals, as long as eligible families participate, she said.

“The more participation and kids take advantage of it the more likely we will be able to continue it year after year,” she said. “At the end of the year, we will look at the numbers and decide whether to keep going.”

The first step in making the program successful is for all families to fill out the socio-economi/ reduced priced meals paperwork that the District provides to every family, she said.

“We need to get people to fill out their paperwork so we can know how many qualified families we have.” The District will have the paperwork available during student registration for the 202425 school year.

The USDA will pay the District based on the number of meals that it serves so encouraging kids to arrive at school a little early to eat breakfast also helps, she said. Kids still will give their student number in the food line but won’t pay for meals. The cafeteria will continue selling snacks during break times and students can use their Mealtime account or cash to purchase them, she said.

The Board hopes that the lure of free meals in economically straitened times will make more kids choose the cafeteria.

“As somebody who has four kids enrolled [at OISD], I am going to take advantage of the program,” Mrs. Branum said. “We actually have pretty good food. My kids have given rave reviews to the chicken.”

OISD serves an array of entree options per day depending on the grade level, including such offerings as stir fry, orange chicken and pizza and cold “fun” meals such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and corndogs.

“This is a decision we are making because we want to help feed kids,” Mrs. Branum said. “There is a lot of data out there that being well fed makes an impact on the ability to learn.”