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Free lunch program expands at Sharyland ISD

Last year, Sharyland ISD provided free meals to the students at five campuses throughout the school year. It was the first time in district history that any Sharyland school qualified for free in-house meals. This year, the district expanded the program to eight campuses. 

Photo courtesy of Sharyland ISD

The no-cost meals are available through a federal program called Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) — a meal service option for schools and districts in low-income areas. Schools qualify based on the percentage of student households that receive federal benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Medicaid. The federal government then reimburses the district for every free meal based on the percentages. 

Each spring, Sharyland’s Child Nutrition Program compiles the student household data and determines which campuses are eligible for the program. The eight campuses that qualify this year are:

  • Pioneer High School
  • Sharyland North Jr. High 
  • Garza Elementary 
  • Jensen Elementary 
  • Shary Elementary 
  • Martinez Elementary 
  • Bentsen Elementary
  • Wernecke Elementary

Martinez, Bentsen and Wernecke are the new campuses that became eligible for the CEP program this year. Once a campus qualifies, they enter the program for four years. Child Nutrition Program Director Iris Perez said she hopes the district can provide free meals for more campuses in the future. 

“We want to offer the most benefits to our families here in Sharyland,” Perez said. “But we have to do a report every March. And depending on what the percentages are at that point, then we’ll see what the feasibility of the program would be to add on a couple more schools if possible.” 

Researchers have studied the impact of the CEP programs, which suggest that families are less likely to struggle to afford groceries. Additionally, their research shows that schools with CEP programs have seen a reduction in bullying and harassment that some low-income students face. 

SISD’s CNP director said the free-meal program also helps put parents and guardians at ease. 

“They don’t have to worry about filling out applications, they don’t have to worry about putting money in their accounts. All the students eat at no cost,” she said. “So any time we can pass on that kind of benefit for the families, it’s great.” 

This year, more than 4,000 schools in Texas qualified for the CEP program. And if it were up to Perez, all the Sharyland schools would be part of that list. 

“Of course, the more schools, the better,” the CNP director said. “But we’re definitely going to add as many more as we can because we just want to maximize and provide the best for our students and for our families here.”

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