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Pickett Schools Begin Free Lunch Pilot Program, Hopeful Long-Term

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Pickett Schools Begin Free Lunch Pilot Program, Hopeful Long-Term

Pickett County Schools will provide free meals for all students district-wide through the end of the school year.

School Nutrition Supervisor Rebecca Wallin said this year, Tennessee made Medicaid-eligible students certified to receive free lunch, almost doubling the number of eligible students in Pickett County. She said the increase finally made this a fiscal possibility.

“A well-fed student, a student who’s receiving healthy meals at school or at home, they’re always going to perform better academically,” Wallin said. “They don’t have to think about where their next meal’s coming from or what their next meal’s going to be, or if they have to wait until they come back to school the next day.”

Wallin said a percentage of meals will be reimbursed by the USDA at some $4 per meal, with the remaining meals reimbursed at 42 cents per meal. She said the percentage of meals on the 42-cent reimbursement is higher than she would like, so the system will monitor finances and decide if they can make this a permanent system beyond this school year.

“I’m hopeful that it lifts a burden tremendously,” Wallin said. “If you’ve got four kids in school and you don’t meet the eligibility for free lunches or reduced-priced lunches, but you’re just right there on the cusp of the guidelines, you’re paying out quite a bit of money every week.”

Wallin said the Community Eligibility Provisions program already provided free lunches for students meeting guidelines for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but the district did not have enough students that met the requirements for those programs to fund free meals for the remaining student body. Wallin said Pickett County is rural and underprivileged, and staying afloat financially is harder for families than ever.

“A lot of our students’ families are working every day, but it’s hard to stretch that money to make the ends meet a lot of times, especially with inflation, like I said before, and rising costs of food, fuel, and energy costs right now,” Wallin said. “Everything is just through the roof.”

Wallin said the district has worked hard to make sure families are aware of the change, and what meals their children can get for free, as there are still meals and menu items available at normal cost.


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