Contributions sought for district's Fund-A-Meal program
Franklin Regional officials want to make sure there is a free lunch for every child in need.
The district recently kicked off its annual Fund-A-Meal drive, which solicits donations to pay for lunches for students eligible to receive reduced-price lunches under state guidelines.
The state offers a free and reduced-price lunch program that enables students whose families meet federal poverty guidelines to receive a discounted or free breakfast and lunch each day. At Franklin Regional, nearly 12 percent of students — about 435 students — are eligible for the program.
Under the basic lunch program, students who are eligible for the reduced-price program pay 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch instead of the $1.25 charged for breakfast and $2.25 charged for lunch at the middle and high schools. The Fund-A-Meal program aims to ensure that families don't have to worry about paying even the reduced prices.
The Franklin Regional program raises between $10,000 and $12,000 annually to subsidize the meals, Superintendent Emery D'Arcangelo said.
“We're fortunate to have some pretty good situations here at Franklin Regional,” D'Arcangelo said. “But we do have a segment of the population that does struggle.”
The number of students at Franklin Regional eligible for free and reduced-price meals rose nearly 21 percent between 2007 and 2011, which is the last year that detailed statistics for the program were available from the state. Last school year, 393 students were eligible for the program, including 82 students who could receive a reduced-price meal. In 2007-08, 325 students were eligible, with 85 students receiving reduced-price meals.
“It's a sign of the economy,” D'Arcangelo said. “We try to make sure that if a student qualifies for a reduced (price) meal, they can eat for free for the school year.”
Franklin Regional's effort is commendable, said Jennifer Miller, development director at the Westmoreland County Food Bank. Children are among the most vulnerable population the food bank serves, she said, so it's important to make sure they aren't hungry at school.
“If they're hungry, they're not learning or paying attention to what is going on in class,” Miller said. “If they don't have enough food to eat at home, they'll eat at school. Having free and reduced breakfasts and lunches are important for creating our new leaders.”
In Westmoreland County, 17 percent of the 15,000 people served by the food bank are children, Miller said. And
“The face of hunger would surprise you — it's changing,” Miller said. “It's not just people receiving public assistance. There are people who had good jobs and lost them or had their (work) hours cut. We're all one tragic illness, one job loss away from being in food lines ourselves.”
Among the biggest supporters of the Fund-A-Meal program is the Franklin Regional Education Association, the district's teachers union. The union collects donations throughout the year, union President Domenic Colangelo said.
“The number of students having problems at home getting adequate lunches keeps growing,” Colangelo said. “We want to open the (free lunch) program up to anyone who needs it.”
The program is supported by private donations and other groups throughout the community. In November, the district received more than $1,200 in donations.
It was a community group — the Murrysville-Export Area Ecumenical Ministerium — that enabled the district to start the program years ago, when it donated the proceeds of its CROP Walk to launch the program.
“We have a tremendous community that supports us,” D'Arcangelo said.
“When it comes down to reaching in and helping others, it's a tremendous, tremendous support, even from our students. There is something going on virtually all of the time in one of our buildings and it's helping others.”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or firstname.lastname@example.org.