By Elise Franco
An increase in the overall poverty level at Austintown schools allows the district to offer free breakfast and lunch through the summer months.
This year the district saw the number of students on free and reduced lunch increase to 50 percent, said Tascin Brooks, director of food services.
Brooks said the district qualified for the free breakfast and lunch summer program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture using data from the Census Bureau.
Woodside Elementary is about 82 percent impoverished, with Watson Elementary, Austintown Fitch and Austintown Middle School at about 67 percent, Brooks said. Lloyd Elementary is about 41 percent and Lynn Kirk Elementary is 18 percent. Data for Frank Ohl Intermediate School wasn’t available Wednesday afternoon.
“We have different economic areas in this town, and some are in a tougher situation than others,” Brooks said.
The program runs Monday through Friday until Aug. 16.
Breakfast is served from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. at Austintown Middle School and from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m. at Woodside Elementary. Lunch is from noon to 1:15 p.m. at AMS and 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at Woodside.
She said this type of program is needed in Austintown because it will keep children nourished and healthy during the summer and will give parents options for feeding their kids.
Any child 18 years or younger is allowed to participate in the meals, as well as any adults with disabilities, Brooks said.
“Even if we just help one family, it’s worth it,” she said. “We had one woman who came in on the first day who said she didn’t know how she would feed her children during the summer because her work hours were drastically cut.”
Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said students seem to be taking advantage of the program so far. He said many of the kids are part of summer programs, and he expects a higher turnout once sports teams and extracurricular groups return to campus for summer practices.
“It’s working really well, and there are students in the building,” he said. “Camp Woodside is going on right now, so those students are there, and summer-school students are eating.”
Brooks said the program’s budget is $90,000, which is reimbursed by the USDA. She said that money is used only for food and meal supplies.
The district is responsible for paying eight food-service employees — two seven-hour managers, four three-hour kitchen staff and two sweeper-cleaners — which costs a total of $23,000 through the end of the program, Brooks said.
Brooks said the most important thing for people to remember is that the program is open to all children.
“I really just want people to use it,” she said. “I think a lot of people have that idea in their mind that it’s only for people who really need help, but it’s for everyone. There are no income requirements.”