• 61°

PAISD continuing free breakfast, lunch program

The Port Arthur Independent School District announced Thursday it is continuing a policy to operate the Community Eligibility Program, providing all students free breakfast and lunch.

Schools qualifying to operate CEP under the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program serve meals at no charge, eliminating the collection of meal applications for free, reduced-price and paid student meals.

Child Nutrition System Specialist Ariel Guidry Bodden said the new approach, which began last year, helps reduce the burden for families and school administrators.

“That’s something we do every year,” she said. “It helps ensure that students receive nutritious meals. Last year was our first year doing the CEP and the Texas Education Agency requires us to send a statement out announcing the renewal of the contract every year.”

Child Nutrition Director Robin Rhodes said the program is more important today than previous years.

“What we have right now is uncertainty,” he said. “There are people laid off, furloughed and struggling to make ends meet, and the last thing anyone wants to worry about is how they are going to get their lunches for the students.”

Rhodes said despite COVID-19 stopping the data short by several months, the number of students taking advantage of the free meals was on the rise.

Sixty percent of students at Port Arthur ISD automatically qualified for other state assistance such as Medicaid, CHIP, SNAP, etc.

Twenty percent qualified on income alone, leaving only 20 percent of students paying for full price.

“We really only had data through the first week of March last year,” Rhodes said. “This year we are on track to do much better. Since we only have seven months of data, that really shows a huge difference. We are seeing some upticks on our breakfast program. Looking at the numbers there was definitely an increase.”

Although thankful for the CEP program, Rhodes said the nutrition program isn’t stopping there.

“Getting a free meal is not enough,” he said. “We are still looking at ways to make meals more appealing and healthy for students. As far as CEP and how it affects them, everyone who wants a free breakfast or lunch is going to get it. We don’t even do a registration. Everyone qualifies for that free meal.”

To qualify for a free meal, students only need to register to be a student and attend classes.

Meals will begin distribution the first day of school, Aug. 18.