All Leechburg Area elementary students to get free breakfast and lunch
Free breakfasts and lunches await all students enrolled at David Leech Elementary in the coming school year.
The district approved the new program for the 320 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through five. It was made possible by the federally funded Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act program, passed by Congress in 2010.
Pre-K students will continue to receive free breakfast and lunches provided by a separate existing grant, the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts Program, said David Leech elementary Principal Dave Keibler.
In previous years, the district elementary free and reduced price meal numbers hovered in the 30 percent range, falling short of the minimum 40 percent required to qualify for free meals for all students, Keibler said.
“We are at 44.5 percent now of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches at the elementary level,” Keibler said.
Under the law, school districts with at least 40 percent of students eligible for public assistance programs will be able to provide free breakfast/lunches for all students regardless of family income.
“This takes the hardship off of parents,” said Keibler. “This is one program that makes sure students are being fed, aren’t hungry and can focus on where they need to be educationally while in school.”
Keibler noted the savings are “substantial” for district families, citing the cost of one child eating both breakfast and lunch at $775 annually.
“Our goal is to have 100 percent of our elementary students taking advantage of this program.”
The program isn’t available for students in grades six to 12 because the number of families requesting free or reduced lunches at the middle- and high school grades at Leechburg don’t meet the 40 percent benchmark, Keibler said.
A reduced meal at Leechburg is priced at 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.
According to data released by the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, a record 73.3 percent of school lunches served nationally in 2016 were either free or reduced price meals.
Two area school districts, Highlands and New Kensington-Arnold, offer free breakfast and lunch to students in all grades.
Students wishing to purchase extra or double servings or items from the school snack shop are not covered by the program, said Leechburg Superintendent Tiffany Nix.
District parent Melissa Rak welcomes the news.
“It is great that all the parents get free breakfast and lunch for their kids,” Rak said. “But, at the same time, it is a double-edged sword because that means that we are way below the income guidelines, and that is upsetting.”
Nix said the program could be valuable to secondary students as well.
“I am thrilled that we are able to offer this program to our elementary families,” Nix said. “This can be a huge savings for them. My hope is that we will be able to offer this district-wide in future years.”