Come summer, any hungry kid in town can get a free school lunch.
Of course, that’s assuming enough kids show up for the Payson Unified School District to make the program pencil out.
Bill Helmintoller told the board that if the district can get at least 100 students to sign up for the free lunch during those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer — the district can at least break even on the federally funded program.
The district would offer the lunches on the campus of Rim Country Middle School, said Helmintoller, who works for Sodexo Education, a private firm that has the contract to provide lunches in Payson during the school year.
He said two-thirds of the children in Payson come from low-income families. “I think those kids need a meal in the summertime, same as in the wintertime,” he said.
He noted that the federal school lunch program has a summer session that will give districts $3.19 per meal — which compares to the $2.76 per-meal payment during the regular school year.
If the district can provide a lunch that meets the federal nutritional requirements for less than $3.19, it can make money on the program.
“I think we need to get about 100 kids,” to at least break even on the program, he said.
“So we need to get the information out there as quickly as we can. If we go through the first week and don’t get the participation, then we’ll shut it down. We don’t want to cost the district any money.”
Board member Matt Van Camp said “if it doesn’t pay for itself, we’re not doing it.”
Normally, kids from families with incomes below the 130 percent of the federal poverty line ($28,665 for a family of four) can get free lunches. Children with family incomes of up to $40,793 can get a lunch for no more than 40 cents.
However, during the summer any kid can get a lunch, with no family income requirement, he said.
Nationally, the $10 billion school lunch program operates in 100,000 schools and provides lunches to 31 million children a day. The program can also provide money for snacks at after-school activities and programs. Recent changes have decreased the fat content and increased the overall nutritional value of the lunches.
The summer program nationally serves 2.2 million children at 35,000 sites nationally, with a budget of about $356 million.
The program started in 1947 feeding 7 million students for $70 million. It has since has served a total of 219 billion lunches.
Studies comparing the school lunches with meals kids bring from home concluded that the school lunches have three times as many dairy products, twice as much fruit and seven times as many vegetables, while also providing one-third of the recommended intake of most key vitamins. No more than 30 percent of the calories in the meals can come from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Studies suggest that students participating in the school lunch program consume less sugar than other students.
Helmintoller said kids will all eat free in the summer program and parents can also get a lunch — for $2.75.
“That’s a pretty cheap lunch,” mused board chairman Barbara Underwood.
“You can’t go, Barb,” said board member Rory Huff.
“Yes she can,” laughed Helmintoller.
The board approved the program on a 5-0 vote.