STURGIS, Mich. — The numbers of students across West Michigan that qualify for free or reduced lunches continues to rise but a program made available to Michigan is helping to fight the growing trend.
It’s called the ‘Community Eligibility Option’ or CEO, and it’s a part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. The program is not available in all states yet, but continues to grow in Michigan as more schools join, including Sturgis Elementary schools just this year.
Patti Miller started as a volunteer in the Sturgis Public School 20 years ago. Now that she’s the food service director, she’s seeing firsthand the struggles of more and more families.
“We have a high poverty level in this area. Major companies go out of business here so that really affected us.”
More than 70 percent of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunches. To be eligible for the CEO program, 40 percent of the students in the district or building have to be direct certified, meaning their families are on other assistance like food stamps.
Just a few months into the program, Miller says they have increased their meals per day by 100, but the real difference is seeing no student left out.
“They don’t have to worry about us sending home the past-due notices or taking away a child’s lunch because they have too much debt,” she said.
Miller wants to expand the program to cover all the schools in the district but said they need to make sure it’s fiscally efficient. Districts do get a percentage based reimbursement, but the costs not covered needs to be met by the district.
Grand Rapids and Battle Creek Public schools are just two among several West Michigan districts that have also been involved in the program for a few years.