More Georgia students than ever before are relying on federally subsidized school meals — many for the first time — as families struggle to make ends meet in the sluggish economy.
Nearly 60 percent of Georgia's public school students receive either a free or reduced lunch each day. That's an increase of about 47,000 students over the last five years enrolled in the program, which is aimed at low-income families.
Experts say there are more needy students than that in the schools, but some families don't sign up for the federal program — either because they don't want to ask for help or they don't know about it.
"It is hard because you have to make a decision on whether or not you want to be prideful," said Arlena Edmonds, who signed up for free lunches for her 10th-grader when she lost her $48,000-a-year job in 2010. "Thank God this system is available."
The numbers reflect national figures that show the Great Recession hit middle-class families that were already struggling before the economy tanked. Across the country, more than 20 million students receive federally subsidized lunches each day, compared to 17 million in 2006.