Kids will eat free this year in the Vincennes Community School Corp.
VCSC officials this week announced that, largely due to a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all students in kindergarten through the 12th grade will be eligible for a free lunch.
Superintendent Greg Parsley called it an “extension” of what the VCSC began in the spring of 2020, as students headed back to the classroom following the COVID-19 shut down.
The USDA offered a waiver to eligible schools, particularly the VCSC’s elementary schools, for a free lunch, understanding that many families were struggling amid the still-raging pandemic.
While that waiver expired this year, Parsley said they were able to secure it for another three years for the elementary schools as well as some eligible students at Clark Middle School.
But as school corporation officials looked at their coffers, they decided to close the gap, offering all students in every building a free tray lunch, should they want one.
“All of our elementary schools qualified for this waiver as did most students at the middle school, but because we’re running a surplus in our food service account, we decided to extend it to all students,” Parsley said.
“We saw an opportunity to just pass those savings back to students and their families.”
Parsley, too, reiterated that there are no financial requirements for this program and no additional paperwork for families to fill out.
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All VCSC students are eligible.
He, too, clarified that this is only for the standard tray lunch; a-la-carte items will still be available for students to purchase through Sodexo Campus Services.
Parsley said VCSC officials were particularly motivated to spend some of their food service surplus funds to make up the difference largely because of the success of its summer feeding program, one that offers free lunches to everyone under the age of 18 at multiple locations throughout Vincennes. That program, too, is funded through the USDA.
Thousands of free meals are handed out each summer as a result.
“We want to be sure our kids are fed,” Parsley said matter-of-factly. “We have been a huge proponent of the summer feeding program because we know, for some of our kids, coming to school and getting that hot meal is the only place they may get one.
“We’re always mindful of that responsibility, so with this waiver still in place, it only made sense to make up the difference for the middle and high schools.”
Parsley said the free lunch program will likely remain in place for the next three years.
“Then we will reassess as necessary,” he said. “We’ll figure out whether or not we can continue extending (free meals) to the middle school and high school.
“But for now, if we can help out all students and not just one segment of the population, then we want to do that.”