Whidbey students will be eating for free again this year as a pandemic-prompted federal relief program makes its return.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture started reimbursing schools and childcare centers for meals last year when COVID-19 lockdowns plunged many families’ finances into uncertainty. All students were allowed to eat for free, regardless of household income.
The department announced in April that the program will continue through the 2021-22 school year. Now, the approximately 7,000 K-12 students in Whidbey school districts and their families will reap the benefits for another academic year.
In South Whidbey and Coupeville School Districts, full-price lunches cost $3.50 a day during a regular school year. A student can save $630 throughout the course of the school year if he or she eats a free lunch at the school every day.
In Oak Harbor School District, the elementary school lunch rate is $2.95 per meal, and the secondary lunch rate is $3.20 per meal, leaving students with $531 or $576 in yearly savings, respectively.
Some aspects of the program will be different this year. While last year, the program also provided meals for students over the weekend, this year students will only receive free meals on school days. Meals will also be returned to the regular school lunch format instead of being served in grab-and-go bags as they were last year.
In Coupeville schools, only lunch will be served for free this year. South Whidbey schools, however, will still be serving free breakfast, according to Dan Poolman, assistant superintendent of business and operations.
Vicki Williams, director of business services for Oak Harbor School District, did not indicate whether Oak Harbor schools would be serving breakfast this coming year.
Williams encouraged students to fill out an application for free and reduced lunch, even though all students will get free meals this year regardless of financial status.
“It’s still a measurement of poverty in our schools and drives funding for other programs,” she said. “It’s very important that we be able to gather our data.”