More than half of Des Moines’ 60 public schools will soon offer free breakfast and lunch for about 17,000 students without them having to apply for it.
Starting this fall, 100 percent of the costs for these meals at 35 schools and three preschools will be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says Sandy Huisman, director of nutrition services at Des Moines Public Schools. The district will also save about $75,000 in administrative costs and paperwork as a result of this new program, she adds.
“Previously with our free and reduced meal program, a requirement was to send out a letter to all participating households,” Huisman says. “That involved printing and postage costs plus a lot of extra work hours. Not having all those logistics will be a significant savings for the district.”
Breakfast and lunch lines will also be moving quicker, she adds, as students will no longer have to enter a number to sign in to receive free or reduced meals at the cashier.
This new program was needed as the city of Des Moines has seen a significant increase in K12 students qualifying for free meals, from roughly 30 percent in the 1990s to nearly 70 percent today, due to the recent recession and other economic trends, Huisman says.
Other districts, such as the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana and Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts, have also participated in a similar universal free meals program.
And while Des Moines Public Schools will save money, the biggest benefit of the new program is to the students themselves, she says.
“While we already have many students taking advantage of free or reduced meals, we also have many students who don’t fill out the paperwork or are just above qualifying for the program,” Huisman says. “We see so many kids in our cafeterias with meals from home where we can tell families are struggling to give them a nutritious lunch,” Huisman says. “It will be great for everyone to have access to free school meals.”