Number of Routt County students given free snacks at schools increases | SteamboatToday.com

Number of Routt County students given free snacks at schools increases

Jack Weinstein

— Each morning, Dot Haberlan restocks the food shelf in her office at Steamboat Springs High School.

She prepares for an average of more than 10 students who visit the nurse's office every day because they're hungry. Hab­erlan oversees health services for all Routt County schools for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Of the students who visit her office, Haberlan said, many don't eat breakfast because they slept too late or didn't want to prepare it themselves after mom and dad left for work.

"Some kids," she said, "haven't had anything since lunch the day before."

By noon Tuesday, seven high schoolers had visited Haberlan's office to get a snack. She said an average of about five students each at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools are fed in the nurse's office daily. The average at Steamboat Springs Middle School is between five and 10.

Added together, it's a small percentage of the district's more than 2,100 students, but it's a number Haberlan said has increased in recent years since the economy went south.

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"We're feeding more kids than we've ever fed before," she said.

Haberlan said schools in the Hayden and South Routt school districts also are providing snacks to more students.

School food programs

In fall 2006, Steamboat Springs Middle School began selling breakfast for students.

Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert said all district students could buy breakfast at the middle school. In January, he said, the district sold about 400 breakfasts, a number that was "pretty high."

He added that the high school also sells students breakfast food and snacks during a short period at about 9:30 a.m. every day.

Despite nurses' offices providing free snacks throughout the day, Huppert said there is no room in his budget to buy food for a program to assist those students.

He added that the district also isn't eligible to receive grant funding for a program to provide free snacks because the number of students eligible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Na­­tional School Lunch Program, which provides free and reduced lunches, isn't high enough. About 10 percent of the district's students receive lunches for free or at a discounted price of 40 cents.

Increased need

From 2008 to 2009, the amount of food provided by LIFT-UP of Routt County increased 15 percent, said Pam Graham, food bank and case manager. But in 2008, LIFT-UP distributed 40 percent more food than in 2007.

Not all of the people LIFT-UP assists in the county are families with children in school, Graham said, but the numbers help illustrate how much the need has increased locally.

Graham said she was not aware of the district's need to feed students who come to school hungry.

She said LIFT-UP, which provides as many as two grocery-store-size bags of food per family member once in a calendar quarter, isn't set up to provide ongoing assistance to people.

"We're set up to help people get over a hump, like when they're waiting for a paycheck," she said.

And she said LIFT-UP isn't set up to assist the schools but added that if the problem were large enough, that could be discussed.

Haberlan said she hasn't reached out to LIFT-UP and didn't indicate that she would.

The high school's Parent In­­formation Committee recently donated $400 to help buy snacks for students — what Haberlan called a "godsend." The middle school's parent group also made a donation to pay for school snacks.

Haberlan, who has been with the district for 20 years, said in the past, money for snacks came from the nurse's office supply budget or out of her own pocket.

Superintendent Shalee Cun­ningham said with a tight budget this school year and expected cuts to the 2010-11 budget, the district already is stretched thin. She said the district couldn't afford to buy students free snacks.

"There's really no money for this," she said.

Help available

In addition to LIFT-UP, the Routt County Department of Human Services can help school families in need of assistance. It can assist individuals and families who meet income requirements in applying for help buying food through the The Colorado Food Stamp Program.

Whatever reason students come to school hungry, Haberlan said the district wouldn't turn anyone away who needed something to eat.

"It's a hard town to live in. Even if you have a steady income, it's a hard town to live in," Haberlan said. "Sometimes there's just not food at home, or families make too much money to qualify for food stamps. It's a lot of different things, but now more than ever, we have families that are really struggling.

"Kids have to eat. They can't function if they can't eat."

Anyone who would like to make a cash or food donation can call Haberlan at 871-3694. Most of what Haberlan distributes are low-fat, high-protein snacks that are individually wrapped.

Cunningham said people also could contact school parent groups.

How to help

Call Dot Haberlan at 871-3694 to make a cash or food donation to the district

Other resources

■ LIFT-UP of Routt County food bank, 870-8804

■ Routt County Department of Human Services, 879-1540

How the program works

School districts are reimbursed for providing lunches for free or at a reduced cost for eligible students through the U.S. Department of Agriculture National School Lunch program.

Forms to apply for the program are available at Routt County schools and district offices. School officials said eligibility is determined within the districts, so families could find out whether their children are able to receive a free or reduced-price lunch fairly quickly.

Eligibility

Family size — Income (free) — Income (reduced)

1 — $14,079 — $20,036

2 — $18,941 — $26,995

3 — $23,803 — $33,874

4 — $28,665 — $40,793

5 — $33,527 — $47,712

6 — $38,389 — $54,631

7 — $43,251 — $61,550

8 — $48,113 — $68,469

9* — $4,862 — $6,919

*multiply by number of children and add to eight-person-family income to determine eligibility

Source: Colorado Department of Education

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