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Despite Rise in Food Prices, End of Federal Grants Schools in Manistee County Continue to Provide Free Meals to Students

The rise in food prices isn’t just hurting your wallet, school districts are paying more for food too.

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Despite the end of federal programs allowing schools across the country to provide free meals to students during the pandemic, some districts have continued to offer free meals.

Thanks to the state’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), students at Bear Lake Schools, Kaleva Norman-Dickson Schools and Onekama Consolidated Schools in Manistee County are receiving three free meals every day. The Community Eligibility Provision allows schools with enough students who qualify for free and reduced lunch to offer free meals to all students, regardless of income.

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The Superintendent for Bear Lake and KND, Jakob Veith, says the program has made a big impact on students and their families. However, he says it still has an effect on their budget.

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“It really does impact our school’s bottom line because we do receive a set rate from the state, and we have to find healthy foods that meet the nutritional guidelines, but also tastes good,” Veith admits.

According to the Consumer Price Index food prices have soared, with eggs up 60%; bread and lunch meat is up over 15% and milk and cheese are up over 12% from this time last year. The Food Service Director for Bear Lake, KND and Onekama, Tim Klenow, says it’s more than just the astounding rise in food prices that’s causing problems.

“To me there’s three main issues right now: the rise in food costs, the supply chain and labor shortages. At the end of the day we have to weigh in and weigh out meal quality and staying in the black. So, that’s the constant challenge, balancing those two things,” Klenow states.

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Along with grants from the state, the USDA issued Supply Chain Assistance Funds which has helped schools food program’s from going into the red. They say because of those two programs and the rise in food prices they’ve seen more students getting foo at school. However, they’re not sure how long those programs will last.

“I think [Supply Chain Assistance Funds] is going to be done by this year. And the increased they’re not saying if that’s going to continue next year. We’re kind of just going to wait and see,” Klenow acknowledges.

They say they will do whatever they can to continue to provide free meals for all students.

“We’re constantly trying to find new solutions and strategies to sustain the program and that helps everybody in the long run,” Klenow says.

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