Economists say there's no such thing as a free lunch but the National School Lunch Program refuses to allow children to go hungry. So as more parents face job layoffs, more students are going through the cafeteria line on a free tab.
At William Monroe Middle School, it's not the same old lunch. The turkey and mashed potato holiday meal rings up at the standard school lunch price of $2.25. But for an increasing number of students in Greene County schools, that's just too much. In Greene County schools, 30 percent of students qualify to get their cafeteria meals at a free or reduced price. That number is up one percent from April.
Greene County Food Services Director Carol Haas shared, "I would see the numbers probably increasing after the first of the year. We've had a lot of phone calls since September with people that are losing their jobs."
In Augusta County, 31 percent of students rely on free or reduced cost meals. Their numbers haven't increased since last year but cafeteria manager Judy Knight says there may be another sign of bad times: lunches on credit.
"There is some students who never charged, and now it looks like they're charging on a regular basis," stated Knight. "Our charged lunches had gone up so high, we're offering an alternative lunch."
As the school's food services department plans for times to get tougher at home for students, they'll work to keep kids full, at least at school. "We try and do everything we can in order to allow them to qualify," assured Haas.
Knight said, "I feel like it's our obligation to see that they are fed."
Greene County and any school system receive federal reimbursement for every free or reduced priced meal they serve. At William Monroe, it's all confidential. Students type in a special code at the cafeteria register.