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RSU 29 students to have free lunch, breakfast next fall

HOULTON, Maine — Free breakfast and lunch for all students will be available to children in RSU 29 next year.

At a special meeting June 12, the RSU 29 board of directors voted to expand the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program to include students at Houlton Middle-High School starting this fall.

For the past three years, RSU 29 has participated in the CEP program offered through the state for students at Houlton Elementary and Southside schools. In this program, students receive meals at no charge, regardless of their level of family income.

The state CEP program allows a school or district with high numbers of low-income children to serve free breakfast and lunch to all students without collecting school meal applications. The goal is to increase participation in school meal programs and decrease school food service administration costs. Districts are reimbursed by the state for most of the expense, but there is a small local cost associated with the program.

“Studies show that children who are not hungry perform better in school,” said Karen Carmichael, food service director for RSU 29. “By providing breakfast and lunch at no cost to students, we are helping to create a better learning environment.”

According to the Maine Department of Education website, the CEP allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The CEP uses information from other programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) instead of traditional paper applications.

In 2018, a total of 83 schools and districts statewide offered this service.

Schools must have an identified student percentage of at least 40 percent, which is the percent of student enrollment listed in the Direct Certification list. RSU 29’s percentage of students is around 71 percent.

RSU 29 is able to offer this service to students at Houlton Middle-High School next year thanks to a private donation of $15,000 from Chris and Mary Pierce, with the stipulation that the funds be used to help provide meals for students.

“We are very appreciative of this donation,” RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said. “It is because of this donation that we are able to make this work next year.”

Halliday added that by expanding the free meals to Houlton Middle-High School, the cost to the district will be between $12,000-$14,000.

“We can only estimate the cost to the district as it is dependent upon participation,” she said.

The program at Houlton Middle-High School only cover the complete meal offered on that particular day. Items that are on the a la carte menu, such as pizza and hamburgers, are not part of the free meal and must be paid.

Any outstanding meal balances from the 2018-19 school year also must be reconciled, Carmichael said.

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