A program offered up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing free meals at school for 52 sites within the Oklahoma City Public School District. Qualifying schools are able to provide free breakfast and lunch to every student, not just those who qualify for free and reduced meals.
At Spencer Elementary School, Kitchen Manager Kevin Huffman prepared a healthy meal for students. Thursday's lunch consisted of penne pasta with a cheese and meat sauce, roasted red peppers, broccoli and cauliflower, a choice of fruit and a breadstick.
Huffman's team posted up at two ends of the serving line. The start is where students see and ask for their choice of food; the end it where a cook checks to make sure the students got what they needed.
“This end is responsible to make sure they have everything they have to have for a meal. We have certain guidelines that they have to have certain things to qualify for a meal,” said Huffman. “In other words, every lunch they have to have a vegetable and a fruit.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays for the healthy meals through the Community Eligibility Provision program. The program serves schools made up of 40 percent of families that receive government assistance.
It also removes some of the stigma associated with poverty in the school district.
"Is a whole lot better than chasing kids down saying, 'please tell your dad to send money with you tomorrow,'" Huffman explained.
Kevin Ponce is the district's Child Nutrition Services Director. He oversees the CEP program and hopes to expand it to more sites in the OKCPS district next year.
“The district's vision is to support the whole child, not just their minds but also their body," said Ponce. "So, this is where we come in, providing nutritious meals.”
Many students don't get the necessary nutrients outside of school because of financial struggles at home, and Ponce said this program would help offset that.