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Free Meal Program Continues in Marshall County Schools

Photo by Drew Parker Debbie Derico, child nutrition director for Marshall County Schools, and her administrative assistant, Rhonda Rine, seated, review paperwork for the district’s free breakfast and lunch program.

Free breakfast and lunch will remain available to all Marshall County public school students for the upcoming academic year.

According to Debbie Derico, child nutrition director for the school district, Marshall County’s eligibility for a federal program providing reimbursement for much of the cost of the meals was recently renewed.

The Community Eligibility Option program provides $2 million in federal funding, matched by $200,000 from a 2013 excess levy.

Derico added the district met the requirement of having at least 40 percent of its students receiving various financial assistance to qualify.

In Marshall County, the rate is 44 percent.

“Our first grant was good for four years back in 2012, so we had to make sure we were able to meet the requirements,” Derico said.

“We barely met at 44 percent, so we were very excited and hopefully we will be able to continue this for another four years.”

She added providing free meals for all students removes the stigma attached to traditional free and reduced-price lunch systems.

“It relieves the administrative burden for us of running bills and making deposits for lunches,” Derico said. “It’s a win-win for us, the parents and students. … Everyone is treated the same so there’s no stigma attached to it, making it a great program. To me, it’s really important to do anything I can to take that stigma away.”

Administrative assistant Rhonda Rine said the policy is very beneficial to the district and county office.

“It has definitely made things easier on the administrative end,” she said. “The countywide program is excellent because every child is offered breakfast and lunch with no hardship put onto the family.”

Superintendent Michael Hince said good nutrition is crucial for every other function of the school system.

“The board made a decision to make sure every student is able to have a breakfast and a lunch five days a week,” Hince said. “The value of that is high. If you’re hungry, that will affect every other part of the school day.”

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