New lunch program eliminates “free lunch stigma”

DARLINGTON, S.C. (WBTW) – A new federal program is helping some local schools reach more children with nutritious meals.

It is called the Community Eligibility Provision, and it provides free meals to every student in a district that participates.  The benefit extends to academics where it also pays to get more students through the cafeteria line.

The Darlington County school district is one of the first in the state to participate fully in the federal Community Eligibility Provision. The Food Services Director Pam Vaughan said it means every student can get a breakfast and lunch at no cost.

“It puts everybody on a level playing field,” Vaughan said. “A student that maybe qualified free previously sometimes there was a stigma if nowhere else but in their mind that they were a free student, and now everyone is free. That stigma is no longer there.”

Some students simply would not eat at school because of that stigma and the sometimes complicated re-application form necessary to qualify each year.

“Sometimes we found the kids that really needed the assistance weren’t really getting the assistance,” explained Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram. He said now the district is seeing more students eating in the cafeteria. Overall, five percent more students are eating breakfast. Ten percent more are eating lunch. In high schools where that old stigma could be worst, 20 percent more students are eating lunch.

“I know they’re in a better position to learn because they’re fed,” Ingram said. “If you come to school hungry you can’t possibly be ready to learn. It’s synchronous with proper rest and shelter…”

Vaughan said that is something she believes in also.

“They need to take care of those basic things before they come to the classroom and while they’re at school, and providing them with a nutritious breakfast and a nutritious lunch help them to perform better,” she said.

Because school meals are even more healthful now than ever, there is a hope the program means even more students will get an understanding of healthful choices.

“Hopefully the students will learn some healthy eating habits from coming through the line,” Vaughan commented.

Whether that happens or not, Ingram said at least for now, he is confident the program is helping.

“To me if one child eats that would normally not eat, it’s worth it,” he said.

Marion County is also participating in the program. North Carolina schools, including Robeson and Scotland counties have been early adopters of the program.

It is up to each district in South Carolina to decide if they will adopt the Community Eligibility Provision.

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