The benefits of free and reduced lunch programs

ALBERT LEA, Minn. - Thousands of students throughout our area rely on the fact that they will receive food at school, but many of those families have a tough time even affording that.

The free and reduced lunch program is a service designed to help those families bridge the gap and allow students to receive a nutritious lunch during the day.

Halverson Elementary School in Albert Lea has seen this need increase over time.

The school has a little more than 350 students enrolled, however of that, 75 percent of them are also enrolled in the free and reduced lunch plan.

It’s a shocking statistic but one that school officials like Principal Nick Sofio, are learning to deal with.

“We’ve grown a little bit from last year to this year, in terms of the number of students who are on the free and reduced lunch,” Sofio says, “but not necessarily significantly, just a small growth.”

Amanda Stender is a single mom who has been a part of this program for the past five years.

With two kids in school, the bills can really add up as she needs to buy two sets of school supplies, school clothes and, school lunches.

Stender says she’s thankful to have this program and doesn’t know what she would do without it.

“I really can’t afford the two of them, so we had an option to apply for it and we applied and we qualified for it.”

However, t’s not just the Albert Lea School district that is seeing these types of statistics.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Education, there are currently more than 200,000 students eligible for free lunches and another 60,000 eligible for reduced price lunches.

Mason City Public Schools say they have seen their numbers increase from 43 percent in 2009, to 51 percent in 2014.

Along with that, Rochester Public Schools currently have nearly 37 percent of their students enrolled in the program.

Minnesota lawmakers are working to pass a bill that would put $3.5 million toward students who qualify for the 40 cent, reduced-priced meals however, help is still needed for schools which is why Halverson Elementary is partnering with their local Rotary Club to help them raise money.

Eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program is primarily based on the family’s income and to learn more about this service or to see if you might be eligible to apply, visit the Minnesota School Breakfast and Lunch Program.

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