Fewer children will go hungry at Kennewick schools with the expansion of a program that provides every student with two meals.
For the past year, Nutrition Services provided the 1,800 students in Edison and Westgate elementary schools and Highlands Middle School with breakfast and lunch.
The pilot project at the three schools employs the 2010 federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to pay for the meals.
Students in four Richland elementary schools, and eight Pasco elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school offer meals through the program.
Schools qualify for reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture community eligibility provision program if more than 40 percent of the students fall into one of four categories — they’re foster children, homeless, migrants or their family receives federal food assistance.
Those groups of children automatically receive free meals without an application.
Once 62.5 percent of a school or group of schools population falls into one of the groups, the federal government pays for the entire cost of the meals for all of the students.
Next year, the Kennewick district is adding seven more schools to the program — Amistad, Canyon View, Eastgate, Hawthorne, Vista and Washington elementary schools and Park Middle School.
The 10 schools to be covered in Kennewick enroll more than 6,000 students.
Sam Shick, the district’s nutrition services director, said making sure children are fed leads to better attendance and behavior.
“We want to make sure they’re not worried about hunger,” he said. “We have a lot of food instability issues in our community.”
The change removes the stigma of getting breakfast at the school, since generally the only children receiving it are those directly qualifying for free meals. Now all children in those schools will get meals.
“We’re hoping that we’re reaching more kids with this program,” he said.
The change also reduces the records needed to keep, allowing the district to direct money toward other costs.
There is a cap on the number of schools the district can add to the program, because of the requirements to apply, Shick said.
“We can only expand to two more schools,” he said. “It’s possible that additional schools can be added in the future. ... I don’t see us changing a bunch next year.”
The district needs to reapply for the program every four years.