SEBRING - The School Board of Highlands County will likely serve free suppers at some of its elementary schools starting in the fall to students in after-school programs.
District Food Service Director Martha Brown stated in an item for the April 8 school board meeting that because the district has a high number of free and reduced students, the supper meal can be served at no cost to any student participating in after-school activities.
"If you've ever interacted with kids around 3 p.m. after the end of the school day, you now they're typically ravenous and looking to put their hands on pretty much anything - top prize usually being chips, soda and candy," she said. "For kids who attend after-school programs, supper is an opportunity to eat a nutritionally balanced meal that is more filling than the typical snack."
District Food Service Manager Tim Thompson said Tuesday that current plans are for fall implementation at the elementary school level.
The National School Lunch Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the Child Care Food Program, which will fund the supper meals, is administered by the Florida Department of Health.
"Because it is a different program, we don't know exactly how long it [approval] will take so we are planning on the fall," Thompson said.
The district has to apply for the program, but he does not know of any districts that have been denied, he said. Also, he is confident of approval because the School Board of Highlands County is already participating in the federal breakfast, lunch and snack programs through the USDA.
Brown noted that the district currently offers a free snack to students in after-school programs. The snack consists of two meal components such as juice and a grain item.
By adding three more components (a sandwich and fruit) it becomes a supper and is a federally reimbursable meal that can be served any time after the school day, she said.
The average cost of a five-component supper meal is $2.60 (food and labor) and the reimbursement is $3.09, according to Brown.
"In communities where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced priced meals, supper can sometimes be the last substantial meal the students have all day," Brown noted on the agenda.
In the 2012-13 school year the district served 169,727 snacks.
Brown stated that she has discussed the supper program concept with several principals and they have indicated an interest in the change from serving a snack to serving supper.
The prepackaged meal would be served at 3 p.m. by the school's after school program staff.