Districts now taking free and reduced lunch applications

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— Steamboat Springs School District cooks were busy in a hot kitchen Tuesday afternoon unloading produce and laying out the ingredients that will become the students’ first meal when they return to classes today.

“We thought jerk chicken with mango salsa would be fitting because of the warm weather,” Steamboat Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert said as he pointed toward a cart full of frozen chicken that will marinate overnight. “And as the school year goes on, we’ll experiment with new dishes.”

And while Huppert and other food services workers wait to find out how their meals are graded by students, Routt County’s school districts are waiting to see whether more students enroll in the their subsidized meal programs.

The number of students who enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program steadily has grown in Hayden, South Routt and Steamboat during the past two years. Many educators predict that trend will continue.

“I would assume it’s going to be the same or higher because the economy hasn’t changed,” Hayden School District Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said.

In Hayden, 107 students used the free and reduced lunch program last year. That was up from 81 students the year before. The story is similar in South Routt, where more than 40 percent of students qualified for meal assistance last year.

Linsacum said students in Hayden who qualify for the free and reduced-lunch program also have their athletic fees waived.

And in Steamboat, more than 320 students are due to have their enrollment in the program renewed when classes start today. Huppert said that although he can’t predict whether more students will qualify this year based on their parents’ combined income, he’s not expecting the numbers to fall.

“Not much has changed with the economy,” he said.

Local school officials will continue to accept applications for the program throughout the school year. Eligibility for food assistance is determined by a family’s size and income. For example, students in a family of three will qualify for free lunches if their parents make less than $24,089. They qualify for reduced-cost lunch if their family income is less than $34,281.

To apply or determine whether a student is eligible, parents can fill out an application and turn it in to their school district office.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com

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