Fort Mill Times

Lunch program can help familes feeling pinch

Unemployed with school-aged kids? Struggling to foot their lunch tabs?

Consider applying for free and reduced breakfast and lunch.

"If any of our parents have lost their jobs or need assistance, we encourage them to complete an application," Linda Hill, Fort Mill School District food service supervisor, said. "Help could be available for them the rest of the school year."

In Indian Land, district officials say that parents can apply for free or reduced lunch any time they have a change in their income status. They encourage parents to apply immediately if they become unemployed.

Lunch in the Fort Mill School District is $1.60 for elementary aged students and $1.85 for those in middle and high schools. Yet, that cost can be a cumbersome to come up with when one or more people in a household are unemployed.

For those who qualify, reduced lunch is 40 cents, said Margaret Buckaloo, Fort Mill's food service bookkeeper. Reduced breakfast is 30 cents, she said.

"We know that a lot of families are facing new financial hardships," she said. "This is a program that can help them. It's available to all school age children in the Fort Mill School District."

That help starts with filling out the free and reduced lunch assistance form, she said.

"It will be a load off them," Buckaloo said of parents and guardians. "If they're approved, their kids can get two meals a day. Parents won't have to worry about buying the groceries to pack lunch or finding the money to send to buy the meals."

However, Hill acknowledged, knowing where to turn when you've never had to ask for assistance can be difficult. Hill recalled a woman who sought assistance about four weeks ago because her husband was unemployed.

"She never needed help before," Hill said. "She didn't know how to fill out the form."

The application process can be completed within two to 10 days. And no one will know that a child receives free or reduced meals, she said.

"The process is confidential," Hill said.

When students lack lunch money, cafeteria workers can charge three lunches before sending a note and/or the free and reduced lunch form to parents. After the third charge, cafeteria workers have another option.

"They give them (students) a cheese sandwich and juice," Buckaloo said.

In Indian Land, district officials say that parents can apply for free or reduced lunch any time they have a change in their income status. They encourage parents to apply immediately if they become unemployed.

Despite the growing unemployment population in Lancaster County, which has reached 18 percent, the number of families who qualify for free or reduced lunch in Indian Land schools actually declined from 2007 reports to 2008. At Indian Land Elementary and Middle School, 21 percent of students received free or reduced lunch in 2008.

At Indian Land High School, 22 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch in 2008, down from 24 percent in 2007.

The decrease in the percentage of free and reduced lunches is likely due to an influx of students. The schools continue to grow at a rapid pace, with the elementary and middle schools adding more than 300 students over the last two years.

The actual number of students receiving free and reduced lunch has remained relatively stabile, however, even as the schools grow.

For more information, call Buckaloo at 802-1968. Indian Land parents can call the Lancaster School District at 803-286-6972.

Need more information?If you've become unemployed or think you might qualify for free and reduced breakfast and lunch, help is available. Free and reduced applications are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the district's operation center at 131 E. Elliott St. or at

www.fort-mill.k12.sc.us

http://www.fort-mill.k12.sc.us

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