Corunna schools joins program offering free meals to all kids

Corunna Public Schools will offer free breakfast and lunch to all preschool and elementary students this year, as part of the district’s enrollment in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program.

CORUNNA — Preschool and elementary students at Corunna Public Schools won’t have to learn on an empty stomach this year, thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students at Elsa Meyer Elementary, Nellie Reed Elementary and Louise Peacock Children’s Services.

The free meals stem from the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a no cost meal service alternative for schools in low-income areas.

Districts qualify for the program based on the percentage of families that already qualify for one or more government assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Each individual school building is evaluated separately, and those with 40 percent or more families qualified for government assistance are eligible for the program.

Corunna is the newest area district to take advantage of CEP; Ovid-Elsie Area Schools will also enroll this year, for the very first time, at E.E. Knight Elementary, Leonard Elementary and at the district’s alternative high school.

Owosso Public Schools will be enrolled in CEP for a ninth consecutive year, according to Food Service Director John Klapko. The district enrolled its elementary schools and middle school for many years, adding the high school into the program last year.

Klapko said the program has been a benefit to the district.

“It’s been very positive, on a whole bunch of levels, financially, emotionally, psychologically,” Klapko said. “It takes away the stigma of kids not having lunch money and gets more kids eating. I’ve been in food service for a long time, and this is the way to go. It solves a lot of problems for parents, for children, for everybody.”

Corunna dining services Director Jillian Wensel said this is the first time buildings from Corunna Schools have enrolled in CEP, a four-year program that will provide free meals to students through the 2022-23 academic year.

Wensel said the decision to enroll was really the best choice for the schools and the community.

“It offers the district freedom to feed the children wholesome meals without the burden of cost to families,” Wensel said. “I am really looking forward to seeing more kids eat school breakfast and lunch this year and watching the financial stress taken away from their parents. I anticipate it will ease a lot of other concerns like forgotten lunch money, being distracted in class, and paying for groceries to pack lunches. With this system, everybody wins.”

Each year, the state sends out a list of schools that are eligible for CEP, typically in the spring, Wensel said. According to the most recent eligibility data from the Michigan Department of Education, based on the spring 2019 student count data, 57.93 percent of Nellie Reed Elementary families qualified for government assistance; 50.57 percent of Elsa Meyer families also qualified.

Wensel said upon learning of the elementary schools’ eligibility, the administration team began crunching the numbers to see if the program would make the best sense for the district.

Parents do not have to sign their children up for the program, though Wensel said the district will be sending a form home for families to fill out. The form asks for all of the information that an application would, Wensel said, but it’s simply a method of collecting data so that the district can maintain its eligibility for the program.

Wensel added that the district will keep track of the number of meals served this year and that data will be turned over to the state.

Schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed by the state using a formula based on the percentage of families that are already eligible for additional aid, according to the USDA.

Superintendent John Fattal said he’s looking forward to the positive impact free meals will have on Corunna students.

“We are thrilled and excited to be able to offer this benefit for our youngest students and their families,” Fattal said. “It’s impossible to do your best academically if you are hungry.”

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