Early County Schools to Offer Free Meals to All Students

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Early County schools are getting a serving of federal aid in their cafeterias. Starting this fall, students in Early County will get their breakfast and lunch at school for free.

The federal grant is available to school systems, where 40% or more of students fall below the poverty line.
It's a no-brainer that hunger can hinder a child's ability to focus and learn.
That's why Early County school leaders are ready to fill the platesof all their students at no cost.

Early County Superintendent Bronwyn Ragan Martin says it's a bonus for the school system.

"They don't have to worry about whether or not they can pay the meal price," she says. "They can go up, they can get a healthy meal, the can be satisfied for breakfast and for lunch so that they can focus on their studies."

Cost isn't the only thing falling off the menu. High calorie options will be history as well. Food service director William Shippee says students will have healthier options in the fall.

"We're going from high fat high sodium type foods down to a lower fat content and lower sodium. More fruits and vegetables, switching to whole grains instead of enriched wheat products," Shippie explains.

Those healthier menu options are required for school systems to qualify for the program.

Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40% student threshold will be able to participate in the program.

Georgia becomes the 10th state to join, with more states added to the list next year. Early County school leaders say they hope the benefits of free meals go beyond nutrition.

"We're hoping that this puts some money back in the pockets of parents who have been paying for lunches," Ragan Martin says of the program, "And hopefully they'll turn around and put it back into the local economy and give us a boost there."

A boost they hope will eventually bring down the poverty levels that demand free meals in the first place. But for now, it's about meeting the immediate needs of kids.

The president signed the healthy, hunger-free kids act into law back in 2010.

When school starts on August 2nd, Early County schools will greet their students with the first school-wide free breakfast.