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Free meals offered to all Natchez-Adams students

NATCHEZ — All Natchez-Adams School District students will receive free breakfast and lunch this school year.

The 2014-2015 school year marks the first time the district is eligible to offer the free meals to all students.

The Community Eligibility Option offers the assistance to students in low-income areas.

The program opened to schools nationwide that have a certain percentage of students who receive assistance from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance, are in foster care or in Head Start or are homeless.

Shantoura Spears, NASD Child Nutrition Programs supervisor, said the program is not a grant, but instead changes the way schools are reimbursed through federal dollars for providing meals to children.

The district, Spears said, has enough students that receive the various types of federal assistances to allow all students in the district to receive free meals through the new program.

The Community Eligibility program was included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and did away with the need for each student to apply through paper applications. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of “identified students” that met the criteria to receive free school meals, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

The program started in a few states including Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan, but expanded this year to all schools who have at least 40 percent of students meeting those categories.

Nearly 95 percent of the students in Natchez schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches, according to NASD student demographic data from the 2013-14 school year.

“When you add together all the kids who receive the different type of assistance, we’re nearly at 100 percent,” Spears said. “That’s what allowed us to get selected for this program.”

Spears said the program was a great thing for the district because it allowed all students the opportunity to get a healthy and free meal.

“I was jumping up and down when I found out we were accepted into this program, because that means all the kids have a chance to a nutritious breakfast or lunch, free of charge,” Spears said. “And the parents don’t have to bring in an application or anything.”

Spears said she was thrilled to start offering the meals to all students on Aug. 11 when the new school year begins.

“We just want them to be able to eat healthy meals, and now everyone can,” Spears said. “It’s such a great thing for the students in the district.”

Letters will be sent out to all students in the district, but Spears said anyone with questions about the program could call the Office of Child Nutrition at 601-445-2852.

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