‘It’s hard to learn if you are hungry’ – It’s time to sign up for free or reduced-price school lunches for new school year

It is time for families to apply for free or reduced-price school meals for the upcoming school year. Rich Cooley/Daily

In Shenandoah County last year, 2,900 students – or 47.7 percent of the 6,082 total student population – were enrolled in the division’s free and reduced-price meals program.

“It is hard to learn if you are hungry,” said Beverly Polk, the division’s food service supervisor.

It’s time to apply for this school year’s program, and Polk said application forms are being distributed to all households along with a letter about the availability of the program.

Parents can also pick up an application in the principal’s office of any school in the district. They can apply at any time during the school year, but the earlier they apply, the sooner they can begin participating in the program, she said.

Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston noted there are families who are eligible but may not apply for the program.

“Anecdotal information indicates there is a stigma attached to receiving the benefit, particularly in high school. Other reasons include parents not completing the application, especially if the student is not pushing them to do so (as in high school),” Johnston wrote in an email.

Warren County Public Schools had 42 percent of its 5,280 student population in the program last year, according to  Superintendent Greg Drescher.

“I have no doubt that for some of our students’, school meals are a necessity,” Drescher stated in an email.

Since direct certification was enacted, Drescher said he believes most families who qualify do apply. Direct certification means that if a family is already getting services through another agency, then when they do need to apply for free and reduced lunch through the schools, it is automatically granted, he said.

“We always hear of families that do not want to take the service for one reason or another, but it is not very many,” Drescher stated.

Frederick County Public Schools had 13,592 total students enrolled as of the last day of the 2017-18 school year in June.

“Approximately one-third participated in the free and reduced lunch program,” said Steve Edwards, spokesperson for Frederick County Public Schools.

For students to receive the benefit, their family must meet certain criteria such as low household income. They may also be automatically eligible if the household participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or if they are a foster child, homeless, a runaway or a migrant.