A priority for every school foodservice director is to make sure every student eats well. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) helps qualifying schools provide nutritious breakfasts and lunches free for all students.
CEP’s success prompted the federal government to extend the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option so free meals could be offered to all students for the 2020-21 school year. That covers students on campus and learning at home.
Helping families during tough times
Free meals fit right into the script at Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan, where Child Nutrition Director Mo Shamili this year applied for CEP meals for the first time. His goal was to make sure families facing tight finances during the pandemic had access to food for their children.
The 9,600-student school district qualified for CEP in previous years, but the time was never right to apply, Shamali explains. This year presented a different point of view. “We never deny students a meal, but we are a service and a business—we have to look at it in a way that keeps us self-operated and self-sufficient.”
By using a formula, schools calculate federal meal reimbursement dollars. If 62.5% of students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches, all students can receive free meals.
Providing food security, simplicity
Once qualified, CEP offers a big benefit for students: free meals for all removes the stigma of poverty. “There are no questions asked … you come in and grab a meal,” Shamali says. “It’s also a simple count system for us. You don’t have to go through the computer system and put in a student’s number so the line moves a lot faster.”
Kentwood serves about 4,800 breakfasts and 4,200 lunches daily. Participation is affected by the number of students taking classes remotely. By using the extended summer program, Shamali offers frozen meals for pickup on Tuesdays and Thursdays at three locations in the district. More than 400 families come on each day to pick up food for the week.
“If we can help kids eat better, we’re helping them learn better in the classroom,” he says. “That’s how we can be customer focused.”