More free lunches served up in schools |

More free lunches served up in schools

The free school lunch, an indicator of economic hardship, is being dished up more frequently in Nevada County, as signs of a national economic recovery continue to be mixed.

Free lunches went out to 832 students daily at the Nevada Joint Union High School District in June – the most recent data available. It equates to nearly 22 percent of the district’s 3,784 student enrollment last year.

That’s nearly double the 445 students receiving the federally subsidized lunches in the 2006-07 school year.

The program is jointly funded by federal and state sources, and every family who qualifies for either free or reduced price lunches receives their child’s lunches completely free.

“It’s a sign of the economy and the times,” said Assistant Superintendent Karen Suenram. “But, those kids can get a healthy breakfast and lunch with it.”

The number of students participating in the program is expected to climb again this year, Suenram said.

To qualify for a free lunch, families must earn less than certain state-issued guidelines. This year, families with one child must earn less than $1,174 monthly, and $1,579 for two children.

Numbers of students on free and reduced lunches are not yet available for this school year.

“I think that most schools in Nevada County would tell you that they are seeing more and more families and students who need greater levels of support and services,” said county Superintendent Holly Hermansen.

Last year, the school districts with the highest rates of free or reduced lunches were the Grass Valley and Ready Springs elementary districts – where 57 and 59 percent of students, respectively, were on the program.

For each district, those numbers rose from the 2008-09 school year, when 51 and 52 percent participated in the program.

“As we got toward the end of the year, those numbers were closer to 65 percent” at Ready Springs, said Superintendent Debra Sandoval. “More and more families are struggling financially. Quite honestly, we encourage families to apply. It opens up the schools to more funding for things like after school programs.”

Getting the word out about the program may drive up participation, said Grass Valley Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.

Numbers rose almost uniformly across the county’s public schools over the last two school years. Pleasant Ridge served about 10 percent more free lunches last year than the year before, Union Hill was up 3 percent, Nevada City about 12 percent and about 9 percent for Clear Creek.

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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