Free lunches for all Syracuse school students

The Syracuse School District is now offering free lunches to students regardless of income as part of a new program offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In previous years, depending on family income, students would qualify for either a free lunch or a reduced cost lunch. Others would pay the full price of $1.20. Since 2000 the Syracuse School District has also offered free breakfasts. Amy Kennedy says her two boys can now enjoy both. "They're having a nutritious lunch and breakfast... my kids look forward to going to breakfast every morning." she told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

Ken Warner is the Assistant Director of the District's Food and Nutrition Department. He says Syracuse qualifies for the federal Department of Agriculture's "Community Eligible Option." It turns out the poverty rate in Syracuse is high enough to meet the federal threshold to do away with income eligibility standards. So every student can receive a free lunch. Warner still wants low income families to fill out applications because state and federal aid for other programs is often based on how many children receive free or reduced lunches.

The program begs the question whether schools are now taking over a basic parental responsibility, to feed their own children. Warner told Kenyon, "A child has to be on the bus as early at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. Sometimes these buses are coming by when you get up in the morning, you're not ready to I think it's not parents being remiss but the fact that the school day has to start by 8:00. They're in school, they've been up for a while ... they get on the bus, then they realize they're hungry. We have to have meals available for them."

Warner says the added benefit of the free lunch is that well fed students are better prepared to learn.