Starting in September, breakfast and lunch will now be a free-for-all at the Bridgehampton School — literally. Every student, regardless of family income, will now receive free breakfasts and lunches at the school if he or she chooses to, the school district recently announced.
Because of certain criteria related to food insecurity in the community at large, the Bridgehampton School has qualified for a federal program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that allows the school district to access government funding to provide two free meals per day to every student.
“At the end of the day, across the board, not just in Bridgehampton, you want to do your best to see to it that the kids come to school with one thing on their minds: doing their best,” Bridgehampton School Board President Ron White said Monday. “I think it’s all districts’ responsibility to see to it that as many of these line items that could be a distraction or a concern are taken off the plate so that kids can focus on things that are important.”
Bridgehampton’s school business administrator, Melisa Stiles, said in an interview there are many benefits.
“Breakfast improves students’ diets, behavior and academic achievement,” she said. “Parents can count on students eating two healthy meals per day without it impacting their food budgets.”
She said the district will also save administrative time and costs because it won’t have to process and vet applications for the previous free and reduced-price program.
Breakfast used to cost $2.50 and lunch used to cost $4 at the school, which typically helped the district support its cafeteria costs. Bridgehampton’s cafeteria budget was $208,022 in the 2017-18 school year, and it budgeted approximately $250,460 for the 2018-19 school year. Despite federal funding that is available, there still may be an impact on the school cafeteria budget, Ms. Stiles said.
“It also depends on how many students participate in the program,” she said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the CEP criteria include the percentage of students already enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program and the percentage of children whose families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. If at least 62.5 percent of a student population in a particular school qualifies for one program or another, the entire student body may receive the free meals.
Ms. Stiles said Bridgehampton was encouraged to apply by the organization Island Harvest, which already supplies the school with backpacks filled with food for the weekends to some families through the Bridgehampton School, helps the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center with free summertime meals and aids many food pantries across Long Island stock their shelves.
“There are no questions asked and every kid who needs food that day is able to walk though the line and receive a meal,” said Allison Puglia, vice president of programs and agency relations for Island Harvest. “Attendance typically goes up when children are eating and the school is able to help. In the end, the children are able to learn and participate because they eat well-thought-out meals. Most people, when they are thinking about food and haven’t eaten since the night before, aren’t focused on the lesson at hand — they are focused on the clock and wen they can get their next meal.”
According to Island Harvest, the Riverhead Central School District also participates in the CEP, but Bridgehampton is the first on the South Fork to sign up. Some districts, like Southampton and East Hampton, have individual schools that are eligible to participate in the program but not the entire district, and can still take part, Ms. Puglia said.
Bonnie Michelle Cannon, director of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, called it “a big step” for the Bridgehampton School and commended Island Harvest for helping the school enroll in the program.
“It’s great that Bridgehampton is taking advantage of this opportunity,” she said. “Hopefully the other school districts will follow suit, because everyone knows there are other children within the Southampton town and East Hampton town school districts that need food. It’s a win-win for the whole community.”