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Let them eat ... lunch

Seventy percent of the kids in the Buffalo Public Schools get free lunch because their family income is low enough to qualify (making not much more than $24,000 a year for a family of three, for instance) -- and their families fill out the forms and turn them in.

Another 7 percent get reduced lunch. (Those with a family income no higher than about $34,000 for a family of three.)

But what about other kids who might qualify for free lunch, but may be too embarrassed to get it?

LunchThat's what School Board Member Ralph Hernandez is wondering. He says over the years, cafeteria workers in the schools have told him that too many kids are not eating.

"We have children out there, for whatever reason, they're not getting any lunches," he said.

Buffalo's median household income, he points out, is just over $27,000.

The board recently approved a resolution from Hernandez directing the superintendent to conduct a feasibility study by Nov. 16 to look at implementing a universal free meals program in the district.

Over a five-year period, he says, the district posted an average surplus of $700,000 a year in the foodservice program. He wants to know whether that surplus would be enough to provide free lunch to every student, every day.

Other districts have universal free lunch programs. Boston, for instance, offers universal free lunch at many of its public schools.

And this year, various places in Kentucky will be adopting a new approach as something of a pilot program for the federal government. The Community Eligibility Option will allow schools in low-income areas to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, and ditch the eligibility applications. Two other states will follow suit next year, and then all states will be eligible in 2014-15.

Right now, Buffalo board members say it makes sense to find a way to feed all students.

"I know there are students who don't feel comfortable and don't bring the information back we've requested. However, these students are hungry. They are not going to go into a cafeteria with other students and say here's my card, I need lunch," said Mary Ruth Kapsiak. "But if everyone's on the same page getting a lunch, our students will learn better. You can't learn on an empty stomach."

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |