Gainesville Independent School District is offering something new to its students this year - a free dinner.
The free dinner program, which was approved by members of the Gainesville ISD board of trustees on July 15, is replacing the district’s after-school snack program, said Aramark Child Nutrition Director Corey Ray.
“We've always had the snack program in our contract but wanted to provide more food with all the components (grain, meat/meat alternate, fruit, juice, milk) to students that truly do not get a full dinner at home,” Ray said via an email interview with the Register. “Typically we serve a cold sandwich/wrap with milk, fresh fruit/vegetable and a juice.”
He said the snack program consisted of two food components and the dinners consist of four to five.
The dinner program is available at all campuses, with the exception of Head Start, when an educational after-school activity is taking place. In addition, the free meals are available to all students, regardless of economic status, according to Leslie Crutsinger, spokeswoman for the district.
The first dinners were served on Aug. 19 to five technology drone class students at Gainesville High School. Since then, around 975 dinners have been served, Ray said Wednesday, Sept. 4.
“We currently are only serving dinner at the high school and [Gainesville] Junior High [School],” he said.
According to information provided to school board members before their vote to approve the proposal submitted by Aramark for the meal program, the billable cost by Aramark to the district was estimated at $2.85 per meal. The federal reimbursement rate is $3.31 per meal, providing a surplus of 46 cents per meal to the district.
School officials said the program isn’t designed to make money but to provide a service. The reimbursed monies will go back into the district’s child nutrition fund.
“This may be the only nutritious meal some of those kids get that day,” board member Mike Rosenberg said of the new program.
During the July 15 board meeting, Superintendent DesMontes Stewart said the free meals would be offered Monday through Thursday.
“I feel this will be a huge, huge, thumbs up for us as far as trying to provide nutritious meals for our kids,” Stewart said. “Especially our kids staying out of school. Because that’s one of the No.1 deterrents is kids are going home because they are hungry. And if we can feed them right on campus, I think that’s going to increase the livelihood of us being able to keep kids on campus to participate in tutoring and all sorts of other extracurricular activities.”