Free and Reduced Price Summer Meal Program Reaches More Students

Emma Hourigan, Staff Writer

MCPS will be serving free, nutritious meals to all minors over the summer regardless of their meal plan eligibility status during the school year through a Free Summer Meals Plan.

The MCPS Free Summer Meals Plan is a federally funded program that distributes lunches through approximately 120 school locations in Montgomery County each summer to serve an estimated 9,500 children per day, according to the MCPS Free Summer Meals Plan informational page.

Sponsored by the Division of Food and Nutrition services and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program aims to offer full, nutritious meals such as chicken patty sandwiches and salads.

The program helps feed the 35 percent of MCPS students eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the school year by providing free, nutritious meals on weekdays throughout the summer.

The locations of summer host schools are based on the percentage of students registered for the Free and Reduced-Priced Meals program (FARMS) during the school year.

“Once you pass that threshold [of the minimum percentage of eligible students], whatever the percentage requirement [of FARMS eligible students] is, it depends on how much money they have and how many schools are participating [over the summer],” cafeteria manager Alexandra Phillips said.

The program has been helping bridge the nutrition gap in schools in order to promote student achievement and wellbeing during the school year. While the program was first implemented in 1976, student participation has increased by 24 percent from 2006 to 2012.

The term “nutrition gap” refers to the difference in both quantity and quality of food available to students based on family income. Poor nutrition in low-income families is a major challenge for students, affecting focus and performance in school, according to a 2018 National Education Association article.

“Good nutrition is important because not only does it give [students] the energy they need in order to function and learn,” health teacher Katherine Gross said. “But also when people have good nutrition, their immune systems are healthier which is going to allow them to be in school more versus missing so many days for being sick.”

In addition to the Free Summer Meals Plan, FARMS allows low-income students to access healthy food during the school year. FARMS eligibility is determined by a student’s family size and annual family income. In a family of four, the two children would be eligible for free meals if their income is under $32,630. If the annual household income is between $32,630 and $46,435, the children would be eligible for reduced-priced meals, according to new guidelines in MCPS’ Free Summer Meals Plan.

Previously, the MCPS Free Summer Meals Program has faced issues such as students not having transportation or not knowing where host schools were located, leaving them unable to access food. In response, the program began using food trucks to drive meals to students who could not access the serving locations.

“The biggest complaint for parents [was], ‘I might be at work, I can’t get my kid to the site,’ or ‘I don’t have a car,’” food services supervisor Erin Kvach said.