The Pinellas County school system is expanding its food program this year, offering free lunches to thousands of additional students and serving free dinners at many after-school programs. At 58 schools, the free lunch program will be expanded to all students and no longer limited to low-income students who traditionally qualify for free lunches. The expansion is part of a federal program aimed at schools with large numbers of students from families in poverty.
The program's goal is to help schools streamline by reducing the costs of processing subsidized lunch applications and removing the need to track students at lunch time and collect payments. Officials say it also can reduce the stigma of students in poverty, since everyone at the school gets a free lunch.
According to the district, students at the 58 schools still can have pre-payment accounts for a la carte items.
A separate federal program supports Pinellas' new free dinner initiative, envisioned as a way to help students from low-income families — many affected by the struggling economy — who often don't have an evening meal at home. The program will be phased in, starting Sept. 9 at Belleair, Belcher and Frontier elementary schools.
The district plans to gradually add schools each week until the program has 40 sites serving a total of 4,000 dinners a day.