ANDERSON — With the 2018-19 school year, Anderson Community Schools became the first district in Madison County to offer free breakfast lunch to all students because 84% already were eligible for free and reduced-fee meals and could be easily certified.

ACS Director of Nutrition & Food Services Amber Swinehart said the first year under the Community Eligibility Provision went very well, and because of the high number of students already eligible, not much changed. Menus remained the same, and the department continued serving made-from-scratch meals, she said.

ACS serves more than 1.2 million meals during the course of a school year.

“Participation increased to some extent, but most importantly we eliminated the need and worry for parents to fund both breakfast and lunch for their students,” she said. “It was the right decision and one that was beneficial for both ACS and for the community. We have found that many children only have the opportunity to eat when they are at school, so anything we can do to relieve that additional financial burden from families so that their children can receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch every day is a win-win situation.”

Implementation of universal free meals resulted in a 4% increase in breakfast participation and no significant change in lunch participation, Swinehart said. As a result, the district did not need to hire any additional food service staff.

However, the change did not come entirely without concerns, Swinehart said.

“There were some initial concerns about overcrowding in the school cafeterias and potential need for more supervision at serving times, but those proved fairly invalid,” she said.

Those who can afford it also have the option of continuing to buy a la carte items.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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