Westfield Public Schools food services, Westfield EATS and director Rachel Kania announced this week that the bill Governor Baker signed into law on Friday includes free breakfast and free lunch for all Massachusetts public school students for the school year 2022-23.
“For a lot of these kids, it’s their only healthy, complete meal that they get. It’s too important to be able to learn and be healthy and happy,” Kania said.
Kania said it makes a difference for her program too. “For us, it means that we will be able to combat the rising food costs. It will make things much easier on us; not only free breakfasts and lunches, but they have upped the reimbursement rate for each child and the funds that are returned to us,” she said.
She also said it will still be important for families to fill out the applications for free and reduced lunch that they will receive in their child’s paperwork on the first day of school.
“When families fill out the free and reduced applications, it not only sets them up to have the free lunch but sets the district up for possibilities for grants and funding for programs, and lets the state know our true demographics,” Kania said, urging families to still do it even though this year the meals will be free for all.
“Still do it; it’s important for the district. It’s one of the ways the state tracks our demographics with our income and opens us up to grant funding for different programs,” she said.
Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski joined in the celebration of the news this week that meals would be free for all students in the coming year. “I have been advocating for this with local elected officials since the federal government announced an end to the free lunch program. This is great news for our students and families, particularly at a time when food insecurity is on the rise. Ultimately, I would like to see this extended permanently,” he said.
Czaporowski also stressed the importance of filling out the income eligibility application regardless, and said the numbers are important in meal reimbursements for districts and for other benefits to families.
Westfield EATS has been providing breakfast and lunches to students through the summer.
“We’re doing great for the summer. Just in the month of July, did 18,000 meals for the kids in Westfield. We’re super excited that families are participating and enjoying it,” Kania said.
Asked if the rising food prices have been hard on them this summer, she said it wasn’t too bad. “The state has provided us with free produce, which has been an extremely big help and commodity items from the USDA,” Kania said, adding that they have heard from families that it’s been a big help with food costs and food bills.
The Westfield EATS Grab & Go summer meal program at Westfield Middle School at 30 W. Silver St., Franklin Ave. Elementary at 22 Franklin Ave. and Westfield Technical Academy at 33 Smith Ave., which run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, continues through Aug. 19. No IDs are required, and children do not have to be present for the meal pickup, which is stationed outdoors.