Umatilla Offers Free Meals to All Students

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Free meals in Umatilla
Umatilla will provide free meals to all district students this year and will expand its salad bar offerings.
NEONOW FILE PHOTO

Every single student in the Umatilla School District can receive free breakfast and lunch this school year.

The district received final approval on Friday for the Community Eligibility Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CEP provides low-income areas with an alternative to collecting individual free or reduced-lunch applications, and Umatilla is now part of the program at 100 percent federal reimbursement.

“It’s a win for the district. It’s a win for families. It’s just a win for everyone,” Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe said. “We have a lot of families that don’t qualify for free or reduced lunches, but it’s still a struggle, financially, to raise children. This gives those families the opportunity to free up some money they would spend on school lunches.”

Sipe said the CEP operates off the principal that for every 10 students receiving food aid – such as food stamps or temporary assistance – there are six other students who could qualify but their parents do not apply. CEP allows schools to calculate their districtwide eligibility by giving each student verified to be on one of those aid programs a weighted value of 1.6. In order to qualify for 100 percent reimbursement, a district must have 62 percent or higher – and Umatilla comes in at 63 percent.

The approval enters Umatilla into the reimbursement program for four years, but Sipe said the district board of education has discussed what the district would do if they dropped below that 62 percent. She said the district would likely supplement any difference in federal reimbursement so all families could still receive free meals. The board has been looking into paid/nonpaid lunch options for about five years and authorized district staff to look into the CEP.

“The program saves the district quite a bit in personnel costs because we won’t have to spend time making sure we have staff on time to take lunch money, to keep track of accounts, to send out reminders, said Sipe. “This will allow us to add more to the salad bar, to try more menu ideas. We’re super excited.”

The district will continue to work with students with medically documented and vegetarian nutritional needs as well as with gardening programs. The free meals will include both breakfast and lunch.

Sipe said the expanded free nutrition program could also help encourage any students who were embarrassed to take a free meal before to get the nutrition they need. Sipe said she is not aware of any stigma for free or reduced lunch, but this removes that possibility because all students will receive the free meals.

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