Westbrook educators: Free meals making a real difference in students’ lives

Lauren Nelson, the chief cook at Canal Elementary, distributes the breakfast containers to each classroom in the school on a daily basis. Contributed / Westbrook Schools

Local educators say the free meals that Maine students enjoyed last year and will continue to receive this year are working wonders in the classroom.

Westbrook principals and teachers are excited about the return to free meals for elementary school students for a second year, as well as an expanded program that benefits middle and high school students.

The program is part of a larger initiative administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide free meals to all students in the state during the school year. The program offers free breakfast, lunch, and a healthy snack daily.

Emerson expects the program to continue addressing food insecurity as two in three students qualify for free or discounted lunch in the district. However, Emerson believes the number is likely higher, and there are a number of families who simply don’t take advantage of the free or discounted lunch. The Free Meal Program will also address the 5% of requests the department receives that are rejected because parents are doing “a little too much”.

I have S.A so many families in a Catch-22 where they just make a little too much for free meals but not enough for food security, ”said Emerson. “If you make a dollar Above you are not qualified and it is the black and white. You tilt Come back and say you have had some difficult circumstance, a flood in your house, dare canceled because your application is already complete. There is a process for someone due to cancer or exceptional circumstances, however is very strict and only if you have not another application made. “

Schools served about 1,900 meals a day before the pandemic, Emerson estimates.

Educators who spoke to the American Journal say free meal programs are vital, and they have already noticed a difference in the students who can now be fed regularly.

“We see that they can concentrate more easily, are more flexible in behavior, and stay asleep all day,” said Stefanie Hall, a former Canal School teacher, intervention strategist and intern, in an email to the American Journal. “The free food program also offers students all kinds of healthy food.”

“I absolutely noticed a difference in my first graders as they all had access to free meals,” said Mallory Orzechowski, Canal’s first grade teacher. “Almost every student ate breakfast, snacks and lunch, while fewer students ate at school in the past.”

WestbrookSchool’s director of nutrition, Mary Emerson, said the program will save parents of children nearly $ 1 million overall, as a year of groceries costs about $ 946 for each of the 1,000 or so children who receive school lunches.

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