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Free for all: For second year, all Kokomo Schools students in preschool through eighth grade receive free lunch, breakfast

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LUNCH TIME — Adrianna Davis Bugher selects a fruit, vegetable, and entrée in the lunch line at Central Middle International School.

Kokomo School Corporation students at all seven elementary schools and three middle schools have one less thing to worry about this year: lunch money.

For the second year, students in preschool through eighth grade are provided a free breakfast after the corporation was awarded a meal program grant last school year, which allows the meals to be provided for free. The grant, said Central Middle International School Principal Holly Herrera, has positively impacted both the students and their parents.

“When I look at it from the perspective of a parent, it takes the stress off of parents having to worry about students getting a hot breakfast or lunch, and we’ve just seen the amount of kids coming in increasing in what they’re getting and what they’re trying,” Herrera said.

The number of students eating breakfast, she said, has increased as well.

At Central Middle School, students have the options of the standard lunch, an international choice, or a chef salad. With the entrées, students choose one side of fruit and one side of vegetables, which are prepared fresh daily. The choices, said the principal, are adjusted based on students’ preferences. For instance, more vegan and vegetarian options have been added at the request of students.

Herrera said she’s seen students trying foods that they never had tried before or had access to in the past.

Before the grant, approximately 60 to 65 percent of students received free lunches. While students didn’t know who was receiving the free lunches, as all students scanned a card at checkout, Herrera said it feels like the playing field is more even now.

“There was no way for another child to know whether I’m getting a free lunch or not, but I just think that really everyone is on the same playing field. Not that students didn’t feel that way before, but I think, us adults, we all know everyone is equal in here,” she said. “It’s positive for the school. It’s positive for parents. And just being able to provide those meals for our kids, we are making sure they are eating a healthy breakfast and lunch.”

Stacey and Tera Pollard, whose two kids attend Wallace School of Integrated Arts, said they’re grateful for the program as it saves time and money.

Before the grant, their children took their own lunches almost every day. Last school year, with free breakfast and free lunch available, they said they didn’t spend their evenings packing school lunches, making the evenings less chaotic.

The parents estimated they saved about $200 a month in groceries last year with the grant in place. This school year, they said their students no longer have the option of bringing their lunches to school.

“Kokomo Schools offers many healthy options, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Our children even enjoy trying some of the new meal options in the school cafeteria, but they especially like the walking tacos and corn dogs. The program has been great for our family,” Stacey said.

In addition, this school year the Pollards are serving as a host family for one of the Kokomo High School international students who lives in the downtown residence hall. They said they’re using their savings, in part, to feed him.

“With those savings, our family also is planning to give our international student the experience of enjoying thrill rides by visiting Kings Island,” said Tera.

For parent Andrea Wyrick, whose child attends Central Middle International School, the program has been “a relief” due to the fact that she knows healthy options are offered, and she doesn’t have to worry about keeping money in an account or packing lunches.

“As a busy family this is one less stress to have to deal with on a daily basis,” Wyrick said.

School corporations that adopt the meal program, called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Meal Program, are reimbursed through the Indiana Department of Education Office of School and Community Nutrition. Prior to the grant, lunch at Kokomo School Corporation cost $2.35.