Breakfast and lunch will be free for all students at Brunswick County Schools (BCS) beginning this year, in hopes that it will aid families still struggling after Hurricane Florence.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, the school system noticed a rise in the number of children qualifying for subsidized meals, since many local families had begun receiving assistance after the disastrous storm.

This increase allowed the school district to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision Program, which provides free meals for all students without any paperwork involved.

“We hope that the ability to utilize this program will help our families in their day-to-day budgets,” said Robert Parker, school nutrition director, “and hopefully, we can help our families get on their feet a lot quicker.”

To qualify for the program, schools must have an “identified student percentage” of 40% or more, which means those children are certified for free meals without having to submit an application. Their families are already in a database because they receive food stamps or federal assistance, are migrant or homeless, or in other situations that certify the children for meals at no cost.

Currently, Brunswick County’s identified student percentage is almost 59%. Schools must be at 62% to receive a 100% reimbursement from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but BCS’s percentage was close enough for the program to be economically feasible.

Ninety-six percent of meals at BCS will receive the highest reimbursement, which is the free rate and about 4% will receive the lowest reimbursement, which is paid. That money will be covered by the Child Nutrition Department and the school district.

“We’ll do that with our purchasing power, our inventory control, making sure that we are running our child nutrition program as efficiently as possible, and I feel very confident that we’ll be able to do that,” said Parker.

Each year, the Child Nutrition Department will evaluate if the program still makes sense economically before renewing. Parker expects the program to last the entire four years; however, the schools can opt out at any time.

To receive their free meals, students will use their identification number. Additional snacks and entrees will be the only costs they incur.