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Families get help from lunch program

(Editor’s note: Even though many children in Marion County qualify for and receive free and reduced school lunches, the name of the man interviewed for this story was changed to protect his family’s privacy.)

Staff writer

“Bob” grew up in a poor family. His single mother worked to support her four children, but she needed government assistance to get by.

Bob wanted be able to take care of his own family without assistance when he grew up. To that end, he went to college and earned a degree in business. He eventually opened his own business in Marion County, while his wife stayed at home to take care of their three children.

“The market went south beginning in ’07,” he said.

He closed his business. He joined the military, but he was injured during boot camp. He hopes to enlist again in the near future. For now he and his wife — who also has a college degree — are both working part-time.

They have been able to keep their house with a little bit of assistance from area churches, but their two children in school are receiving free lunches as part of the National School Lunch Program.

“That’s been a huge blessing,” Bob said. “It’s been a very humbling experience.”

Schools throughout Marion County have had an increase in the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

The portion of students receiving free and reduced-price meals in Marion County school districts is:

  • USD 397 Centre — 31 percent free, 16 percent reduced.
  • USD 398 Peabody-Burns — 43 percent free, 15 percent reduced.
  • USD 408 Marion/Florence — 29 percent free, 16 percent reduced.
  • USD 410 Durham-Hillsboro-Lehigh — 24 percent free, 12 percent reduced.
  • USD 411 Goessel — 20 percent free, 8 percent reduced.

Goessel Superintendent John Fast said that district saw an increase beginning in the spring and a sharp increase at enrollment time. The district had about 18 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, which has climbed to 28 percent.

Fast said the increase was more among families receiving free lunches than reduced-price. That indicates that more people are in severe need.

“During these economic times, a family may find themselves facing loss of income for the first time from a layoff,” he said.  “I encourage these families to apply to their child’s school for (lunch) benefits.  No child should go hungry, and the (lunch) program is there to help them.”

The income limit for free lunches is 130 percent of the poverty level. Reduced-price lunches are limited to families earning less than 185 percent of the poverty level. The cutoff amounts for a family of four are $28,665 and $40,793, respectively.

Regular-price school lunches in Marion County cost around $1.75 for grade school students and $2 for high school. Reduced-price lunches cost no more than 40 cents by federal law.

USDA subsidizes school lunches, 25 cents for paid lunches, $2.28 for reduced-price, and $2.68 for free. In order to receive subsidies, school lunches must meet federal nutrition requirements.

A school lunch must have at least 664 calories for grade school or 825 for high school, Marion Elementary School cook Terry Cochran said. The meal can contain no more than 30 grams of fat and 10 grams of saturated fat. It also must meet requirements for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.

Bob is happy to have the assistance until his family can get back on its feet. He looks forward to being able to give back for the help his family has received.

He also tries to keep his family’s need in perspective.

“It’s all relative,” he said. “I know there are people out there who don’t have anything.”

Last modified Oct. 22, 2009

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