Columbus Municipal and Starkville-Oktibbeha school districts aim to serve more than 40,000 meals this summer, at no cost, to children 18 and younger.
The United States Department of Agriculture funds the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which provides free breakfast and lunch for children during the summer months.
The program is implemented at school districts where the majority of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch during the school, thus offering free meals to children in need.
The Mississippi Department of Education reimburses schools the program costs with funds from the USDA.
MDE Child Nutrition Director Ginger Gibson said students in Mississippi benefit substantially from the nationwide program.
“It’s critically important for students in our state, because we have a high percentage of children who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year,” Gibson said. “This ensures they have healthy meals for the summer when school is out.”
MDE recorded 2,357,297 meals served in Mississippi during the summer of 2017.
In 2017, USDA reimbursed Columbus and Starkville schools a combined total of almost $120,000 for their programs.
Anyone 18 and younger qualifies for SFSP this summer at all SOCSD and CMSD locations. Participants do not have to be students of either district.
They must eat the food on-site, however.
Last summer, CMSD served about 20,000 meals through SFSP.
Robin Lang, CMSD child nutrition director, hopes to increase that total for this year’s program, which is already underway.
“It’s very important that we continue to serve these children nutritious meals,” Lang said. “Sometimes the only meal that a child gets is at school these days, and they are dependent on that one meal.”
CMSD is offering meals at Columbus High School, Columbus Middle School and Stokes-Beard Elementary on weekdays from May 29-June 29. Breakfast will be served form 7:45-8:30 a.m. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Columbus Success Academy, also known as Hunt Alternative School, will offer breakfast and lunch at the same times on weekdays from May 29-July 20 but will be closed for the Fourth of July Holiday from July 4-6.
Last summer, SOCSD served 23,100 meals. Ginny Hill, SOCSD child nutrition director, anticipates similar participation this year.
“We like to have this as an outreach for the community, so that we can reach some students through the summer that might not have breakfast and lunch (and) to be able to provide that service to them,” Hill said.
SOCSD has two schools providing meals this summer. Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary lunch program will be Monday through Friday, June 4-July 13. Henderson Ward breakfast will be 7:45-9:00 a.m. and lunch will be 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Armstrong Middle School’s service will run Monday-Thursday June 4-July 28. Breakfast will be 7:45-8:45 a.m. and lunch will be 11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.