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More Big Island students to receive free meals

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Thousands of additional Hawaii Island keiki will be able to eat school breakfast and lunch for free starting this fall under a federal meal program expanding to eight more schools.

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Thousands of additional Hawaii Island keiki will be able to eat school breakfast and lunch for free starting this fall under a federal meal program expanding to eight more schools.

The Community Eligibility Provision allows eligible schools to serve free meals to every student, regardless of whether they qualify for free or subsidized meals. It currently operates in 30 traditional schools statewide, including every school in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area.

Next year, the program is expanding to Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary, Hilo Union Elementary, Honaunau Elementary, Hookena Elementary, Keaukaha Elementary, Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Elementary &Intermediate School and Waimea Elementary on the Big Island and 14 others statewide.

That brings the total to 52 traditional schools statewide.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to feed every child, every single day, with a free meal,” said Scott Tamura, principal of Waimea Elementary School, where about 73 percent of students qualified last year for free or subsidized meals. “And for the students, the stigma of free meals goes away. I think the key word is community — we need to create the community that works together, and part of that is making sure our students have the nutrition so they can do their best when they are in class.”

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for our kids,” added Gregg Yonemori, principal of Chiefess Kapiolani Elementary, where the free and reduced-price meal rate was nearly 85 percent last year.

“Every student will be able to get a free breakfast and lunch every day.”

To be eligible for the program, a school must have at least 40 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, defined last year as a family of four with an income of $51,708 per year or less.

Last year, every school on Hawaii Island met that threshold, and some schools far surpassed it — at Mountain View Elementary School, for example, every student qualified.

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The program also operates in a scattering of public charter schools, including at Ke Ana La‘ahana in Hilo for several years. SASA/Registrar Roberta Souza said the school has bolstered meal participation since it began several years ago — now about three-fourths of the charter school’s students eat lunch at school each day.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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