Hancock County Board of Education OKs Free Hot Lunches

Starting next week, all students in Hancock County public schools will receive hot lunches for free.

The Hancock County Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved the implementation of a new free lunch program for all students in the county, which will go into effect Wednesday.

Acknowledging that it has taken a little longer than hoped, Superintendent Tim Woodward expressed support for the program, and said he has spoken with officials regarding its implementation, while also noting the importance of the community’s support for the schools.

“I have talked extensively with the child nutrition program, and it may cost us a little more money up front initially, but you know, the one thing that I have heard from this board is how this community supports us,” Woodward said. “In my short time here, I’ve never felt so much support, and you know we did pretty good financially, and sometimes there’s just a nice way of saying thank you.”

“I know it’s been a lot of undertaking,” said board member Michelle Chappell.

According to Director of Finance Joe Campinelli, the free lunch program will be handled through the state’s Community Eligibility Provision program, which works with school systems to provide breakfasts and lunches to students in high-poverty school districts at no cost to the students and with no need to collect household applications.

According to Campinelli, students will be required to touch a finger scanner, as they currently do for lunches, which then takes an electronic count for all of the lunches that were distributed that day, and later determines how much of a reimbursement the schools will be able to receive in the future.

“The reason they do that is to report the lunch because what happens is we get reimbursed from the federal government based on how many lunches and breakfasts that we serve,” Campinelli said. “So that allows us to keep a count. We don’t have to hand-key all that information in. It’s just a matter of doing the finger scan to keep a count on how many numbers of meals we serve.”

Students who still have a past due balance, however, will need to continue making payments until they are caught up, and Campinelli said the district will continue to collect those balances.

The program will start Wednesday as there will be no school for students on Monday or Tuesday.