NewsEducationK-12 / May 28, 2014

IPS Offering Free Meals

Sam Klemet
IPS Offering Free Meals

Starting next school year, Indianapolis Public Schools is offering free breakfast and lunch to all students.

It’s paid for through a four year federal grant program administered by the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Shortly after IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee started last year, he went on a listening tour to hear feedback from the community.

One of his big takeaways was that students are coming to school hungry.

"Many students live in neighborhoods where there aren't a lot of options for fresh fruits and vegetables.  I call it food desert neighborhoods, " he said.  "There just aren't a lot of options."

And when kids don’t have food options their learning is hindered says Indianapolis Deputy Mayor of Education Jason Kloth.

Kloth adds that if students are concerned with where their next meal is coming from, they can’t give their full attention to their school work.

"I think it has a huge impact on student development and student focus," said Kloth.  "Anyone who's ever experienced hunger at the same time they are attempting to focus on geometry or triganomentry knows how difficult that can be.  So, I think for the students to have the opportunity to have those basic needs met is going to mean they can focus on the learning that is happening in the classroom."

Currently, families need to fill out a paper application to sign their children up for the free and reduced lunch program.

But, through a four year federal grant, Ferebee says IPS is able to offer no-cost meals to all students with no sign up process.

"Some parents, for whatever reason, don't always take advantage of completing the application.  Sometimes, it's a hardship on those families," said Ferebee.  "So, it's something they won't have to worry about going forward.  I think this is a win for all of our families."

To qualify for the federal program, at least 40-percent of a district’s students must qualify for free meals.

Nearly 80-percent of IPS students do. 

And for families who can afford to pay for meals, Ferebee thinks they now will have flexibility to invest in the district in new ways.

"So, it may be an opportunity for parents to provide more resources at the beginning of the school year.  Every teacher has a long wish list of supplies and materials that they want for their classroom," said Ferebee.  "I think we can take advantage of those families that want to give and ensure that not only their students have for the school day, but others have what they need, as well."

Giving all IPS students free breakfast and lunch extends beyond the school district and is being applauded particularly by one local non-profit.

"This program is just huge and we are very excited," said Gleaners Food Bank President and CEO, Cindy Hubert.

Last year the organization distributed 23-million meals, 43-percent of those went to children.

And she says IPS’ effort will help lessen the stress on food banks.

"We are seeing the demand up all the time.  This past fiscal year we were up about 20-percent," she said.  "As I look out my window right now, we see children standing in the pantry line.   So, this does give us relief that more and more children are going to be fed and it'll allow the families to stretch their food dollar that much further.  So, they are going to be confident that their children are getting fed at school and then they can stretch their dollars at home."

The grant funds also are paying for fresh fruit and vegetable snacks for about 50-percent of IPS schools.

Ferebee says the district will pay roughly one million dollars a years from the school nutrition fund to cover all students.