School lunch demand grows

More and more students are getting a free lunch when they go to school each day.

The Oak Harbor School District served 156,000 free lunches last school year, which is a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

While the numbers of lunches spiked sharply, the numbers of students enrolled stayed level, said David Connors, food service director for the Oak Harbor School District.

There are approximately 1,200 students enrolled to receive free lunches and 750 students enrolled for reduced-price lunches.

The school district also saw a 19 percent increase in the number of reduced lunches served last year.

Connors attributed the increase to more eligible students being aware and taking advantage of the hot lunch program.

School districts that have a lunch program are required to offer meals at a free or reduced rate. Eligibility for the program is based on family income and family size.

While the school district is required to offer the program, it does receive a reimbursement from the federal government. Last year the school district received $578,000 in reimbursements for the school lunch program. That was up from $438,979 from the previous year.

Connors said that the numbers of discount lunches served has been increasing during the first years of the lunch program but should start to level off in coming years.

In general, more students are eating lunches prepared by the Oak Harbor School District.

“It was definitely a growth year and we want to maintain that growth,” Connors said during a recent school board meeting where he presented the food service financial report.

In all, the lunch workers served 717,000 meals last school year, which is a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Approximately 64 percent of the students in the school district are eating school lunches.

That number is expected to increase this year because of an extra cashier being added at the high school and both middle schools. The additional help will get students through the lunch line faster and provide a more relaxed environment to dine, according to information from the school district.

While more students are eating more lunches, the school district saw a 13 percent increase in labor costs last school year.

“As our meal numbers raise, we will add labor to accommodate the increase,” Connors said.

He added that the lunch program doesn’t use any money from the district’s general fund to finance operations.

The lunch program showed a positive balance of $159,000. Some of that money is also being used to help pay a limited government obligation bond that was used to buy equipment for the program.

Additional money is also set aside for unanticipated expenses and any equipment repairs that may come up.

School district levy dollars does pay for some expenses that are related to the lunch program that include custodial help, some office expenses and lunch room aides. The school district is currently budgeting $166,950 for such help.

Connors hopes the program will continue to expand with more students using it.

He said the way to do that is to stay flexible and meet student needs.

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