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Meal programs vary across the county

Every school district in the county has a slightly different meal plan for its students. The Picayune School District offers free meals while the Poplarville School District and Pearl River County School District have the option of paid, reduced price or free meals, depending on the student’s household income.

The Picayune School District offers free breakfast and lunch to all students Monday through Friday, and free dinner from 4 p.m. to 6:30 Monday through Thursday, District Food Service Manager Debbie Byrd said. Parents are also welcome to eat with their children for a cost of $3.50. The free evening meal program has been in place since 2016 and is federally funded. Byrd said since the evening meals are open to any child in the district, they usually have a large attendance.

“We want the kids and their parents to know they can come have a hot meal,” Byrd said.

During the day, the area’s schools also offer free breakfast and lunch, making the district the only one in the county that offers free meals to all students, regardless of family income or government assistance.

In the Pearl River County School District, Administrator of Food Services Sheila Amacker said they are able to offer a free breakfast and lunch to the students at the elementary and Endeavor schools. For students at the junior high and high schools regular price breakfast is $1.50 or $.30 for the reduced cost. Regular priced lunch costs $2.75 or can be purchased for $.40 if the child qualifies, Superintendent Alan Lumpkin said.

Amacker said while they have considered the possibility of an afternoon meal program, it would not be feasible for them to do so. She said federal funding to cover free meals is based on how many students in the district qualify for reduced or free meals. The more students who qualify, the more money is allotted by the government to pay for those meals. Since the percentage of students within the Pearl River County School District who qualify is not high enough, they would not receive enough federal funds to move forward with an evening meal program.

However, Amacker said she doubts if an evening program would have a high turnout either way, since they have never had much participation with other meal programs like the summer feeding program.

In Poplarville, the situation is similar to PRC’s, Director of Child Nutrition Gwen Seal said. Because there is not a high percentage of children who qualify for discounted or free meals, they are unable to receive enough grant funding to support a free meal program. Meals for students attending K-12 are $2.75 for lunch and $1.25 for breakfast, she said. The discounted rates are $.40 and $.30 respectively.

Since the Poplarville School District covers such a large area, Seal said she doubts parents would benefit from having a free evening meal. For many parents, the cost of gas to drive into town would counteract the benefit of a meal, she said.

“I think it’s a wonderful program, but I don’t think it would work here,” Seal said.