WH Schools promotes signing up for free, reduced meals

WH Schools promotes signing up for free, reduced meals
Dave Mast

West Holmes Schools’ growing lunch debt has risen to $13,072.33 of unpaid meal expenses. One way to combat that is to have qualified families sign up for free and reduced lunches.


For students and staff in the West Holmes School District, summer brings some welcomed time off from school.

For Food Service Director Dawn Martin, there is time to take a breather, but one aspect of the food service will continue to march on — the lunch debt.

Over the years the lunch debt has continued to climb, and as this school year ended, the lunch debt stood at $13,072.33.

Lunch debt is accrued when students charge their lunches and then don’t pay it back, and the district has watched as that number has grown.

“That’s from our juniors all the way down to our kindergartners,” Martin said of the charges. “Each year the debt rolls over, so they are still responsible.”

Students are responsible for that debt until they become seniors. That year senior adviser Melissa Rodhe and high school secretary Shannon Dye dig in their heels and go to work collecting those fees from the seniors prior to graduation night.

Martin said if those fees aren’t paid, seniors may not be able to walk across and get their diploma on graduation ceremony.

Martin said one positive in the scenario is the district does receive donations from community members that are designated specifically for these expenses, including people who send in specified amounts that are doled out randomly among students to lower their accounts.

“We are gracious for that,” Martin said, noting those funds are helping students and their families out. She said if someone would like to donate to that fund, they may do so by sending a check to her attention at the central office, making it out to West Holmes Cafeterias.

“We have an angel fund for each building, and we put the money in those accounts and transfer it to students,” Martin said, noting those funds must be distributed equally and fairly among all students with lunch debt.

Martin said the biggest way to combat the growing unpaid charge fees is parents making the effort to fill out the necessary forms to receive free and reduced meals.

Those forms are available online on the district website and may be filled out any time over the summer or during the school year.

Once the forms are filled out, families will remain responsible for the back-debt but will be eligible for free and reduced meals that will help lesson or eliminate further debt being accrued.

“Not only does that help them out, it helps the school out too because it gets the school some title money for extra educational things for our students,” Martin said.

While there may be a stigma attached to receiving free and reduced lunches, Martin said families shouldn’t be concerned with that because it is all confidential, and she said people would be surprised how many families are already receiving free and reduced lunches.

“I understand that pride issue, and some people may not want to admit it, but that little bit can really help a family out,” Martin said.

She said this past school year the government provided free meals to students qualifying for reduced meals, a program that will extend into next year.

In addition, Martin said this summer families can sign up to receive SEBT cards that provide $40 a month per student, which is a $120 value over the summer months.

“The cards are created for students to purchase more fruits and vegetables and build healthier meals over the summer months,” Martin said.

These cards are available to any student who is on free or reduced lunches. Those cards and all the pertinent information will be available on the district webpage.

Anyone wanting to sign up for free and reduced meal applications for the 2024-25 school year may do so beginning July 1.

“If we receive applications before then, we aren’t allowed to accept them,” Martin said.

She implored anyone remotely close to eligible for the program to sign up.

“Even if you’re right on the borderline, just fill out the application,” Martin said. “It’s really easy to fill out.”

Once received, Martin will review all applications and send out letters of acceptance or refusal.

Free and reduced meals are based on family income and family size.

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