CEP Program to Bring Free Meals

Brooke Kelleher and students

Photo by S. Garrett Shaw, Lake County Examiner

During the month of March, at the Lake Health District’s Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) meeting a program that would change the way families think about school lunches was discussed. Many parents and guardians are familiar with the sting of school lunch bills that keep on coming. As soon as one is paid off, the next is on its way. Luckily, last fall, LHD grant writer Kristi Albertson noticed an article titled School-Wide Free Nutrition Program Attracts Fewer Rural Schools. 

FoodCorps service member Brooke Kelleher comments, “Kristi sends me nutrition articles pretty regularly, not sure if it relates to the work I’m doing in the schools or not. But with this article, with finding out about CEP, yeah I’d say we hit the jackpot.”

The jackpot that Kelleher refers to is the Community Eligibility Provisions (CEP), a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch for eligible schools and school districts. 

If at least 40 percent of the students in a given school are eligible for free or reduced priced meals, then the entire school is a candidate for CEP, which would provide all students with free meals. During her initial research, Kelleher found that two schools in Lake County School District #7 appeared eligible, and that North Lake School has been eligible for years. 

“One thing about being in a smaller community is that people tend to wear multiple hats, and we have fewer people with more specialized jobs. We have people who focus on health very broadly, but not as many people with a narrow focus. This is why rural communities don’t know about programs like CEP. It hasn’t been anyone’s job to focus really specifically on food access. It’s just so lucky we came across it because this could now affect almost every family in the county,” says Kelleher.

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