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All Central Valley students to receive free school meals

Photo of woman working in the cafeteria

Food Services Director Barb Cristman anticipates a large increase in the number of meals served as a result of the the new policy.

Beginning on the first day of school, Tuesday, Sept. 8, Central Valley School District students will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students who eat at a Central Valley school. That’s right, every student.

The district received notification midday on Friday, Sept. 4 that New York’s Child Nutrition Program had approved Central Valley’s application for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program. CEP is a provision from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that allows schools with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

“This is great news for our students and our community,” said Central Valley Superintendent Rich Hughes.

“We want every child in this district to succeed in school and in life. We know that eating breakfast and lunch makes a huge difference in a student’s ability to remain engaged in the classroom. This program ensures that every child has the opportunity to eat two nutritional meals every day and helps our Thunder take one more step towards success.”

Central Valley staff only recently learned that the district might qualify for CEP and submitted the last of the necessary data on Thursday afternoon. State officials informed the district of the good news at noon on Friday.

The short notice leaves little time to inform families, but the district is notifying the media, posting the information on its website and Facebook page and making a direct to call to all families via the district’s messaging system.

“We want every family to know; we want every student to eat,” said Food Service Director Barb Cristman.

Mrs. Cristman and her staff are increasing food orders and trying to plan for a large increase in meals served. She said she anticipates a few snags for the first few days as everyone adjusts to the new program, but expects to smooth things out quickly.

The cafeterias will launch basic service on opening day. Every student may eat free and have the option to purchase additional food items or milk, if desired. In coming weeks, she plans to make meals more convenient and accessible. Among her ideas is a plan to serve every elementary student breakfast in the classroom. She is also exploring ways to shorten service times and looking into grab-n-go meals for students on the run.

Dr. Hughes acknowledged the likelihood of startup glitches—some parents may not get the message in time and lines might be longer than normal.

“If we waited to start until everything was perfect, we would never start. The goal is too important to wait,” he said.