National School Lunch Week: Free and Reduced lunch makes all the difference for students

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Many kids in Huntsville rely on their schools to feed them each day. This week, the country is shining a light on those who make sure every student gets the nutrition they need.

It’s National School Lunch Week, and schools across the country are celebrating the over 30 million kids served each day. Huntsville City Schools’ students and staff are giving special thanks to the people who make it all happen. 

Paula Elkins works in nutrition at Jones Valley Elementary, and to her, it’s more than just a job. Elkins says, “It’s rewarding when you go out and you see them in the mall or at a restaurant and they holler at you and say ‘Hey, mom! This is my lunch lady!’ It’s very rewarding.”

The hard work of the nutrition staff doesn’t go unnoticed. Students have created artwork thanking the cafeteria workers. The pieces are decorating the lunchline. 

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We spoke to Henry Ward, the Director of Child Nutrition with Huntsville City Schools. He says that those who prepare healthy meals for students are doing more than they may realize. He reminds us that having a hearty and healthy lunch can make all the difference in a student’s performance in the classroom. Ward adds, “It’s important that we serve our young people and get them on their way for the rest of the school day.”

Paula Elkins says a filling lunch is a necessity for all students, with no exceptions, and it’s one that she takes seriously. She adds, “I feel like all of them are my kids. And I don’t want my kids to go hungry, so I don’t want these kids to go hungry.”

Public school officials across the country feel the same way. The National School Lunch Program provides free and reduced lunches to  29.7 million children a day, covering up to $13.8 billion in lunch fees. According to the most recent study published by the National Center for Education Statistics, there are almost 400,000 students in Alabama that are eligible to use the free and reduced lunch program– just over half of the state’s students. 

Henry ward says, “[Huntsville City Schools’ Free and Reduced Meals program] assists those families that may be in need financially and it’s very vital that those people get the assistance that they need, which in turn helps our young people.”

Paula Etkins says it feels good to know that she’s helping to contribute to the health and success of students at Jones Valley Elementary. Etkins says, “It’s a good feeling when you know somebody loves your food and they’re getting full. And they may go home and not get something else to eat so at least you know they got one good meal for the day.”

In Huntsville City Schools alone, about 10,000 free lunch meals are served to students every day. 

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