Need growing in many areas
Percentage of district students receiving free and reduced lunches in area school districts:
This year: 32 percent
Last year: 33 percent
This year: 23 percent
Last year: 22 percent
This year: 30 percent
Last year: 27 percent
This year: 31.5 percent
Last year: 28 percent
This year: 34 percent
Last year: 32 percent
This year: 13.7 percent
Last year: 12.7 percent
This year: 26 percent
Last year: 19 percent
This year: 13.5 percent
Last year: 11.2 percent
This year: 49 percent
Last year: 37 percent
This is one record Bonner Springs school Superintendent Robert VanMaren didn’t want to set.
This year, more students than at any time in VanMaren’s 12 years with the district have applied for free or reduced-price lunches.
“This is the highest by far,” the superintendent said.
The Bonner Springs district saw a dramatic increase this year — to 49 percent from last year’s level of 37 percent of students.
While the percentage of Lawrence students using the program has decreased slightly, Bonner Springs is among several area school districts reporting increases this year.
Julie Henry, food service director for the Baldwin City school district, also has seen a large increase — from 19 percent last year to 26 percent this year.
She sees it as “largely a reflection on the economy.” Henry said the district began seeing an increase in applications for free and reduced-price lunches toward the end of last year.
In addition, VanMaren and Henry said they’ve seen a change in the types of families seeking such assistance.
Many of the new applications are from families that previously had double incomes, and wouldn’t have qualified before. But families that lose one of those incomes are beginning to apply, Henry said. She’s also heard from a lot of parents who thought they’d never need to apply for the federal program.
The food bank at the Ballard Center, 708 Elm St., has also seen an increase in families needing supplemental food supplies, said Seth Peterson, administrative manager.
“We’ve never had the kind of turmoil we’ve had this year,” said Peterson, reporting that Ballard saw three times the number of food requests in August compared with 2008. Peterson said his agency serves more than 200 families every month.
Although the percentage of Lawrence students who are participating in the lunch program is down slightly, New York School Principal Nancy DeGarmo said that doesn’t mean area families aren’t struggling.
“What I see is more families in crisis; kind of situation crises that might be one month things are fine, and the next month something happens and they don’t have enough money,” she said.
The free and reduced-price lunch numbers at her school are traditionally high, she said, and have remained steady this year at about 67 percent.
DeGarmo encourages families who are struggling to learn about which programs they qualify for.
“You just need to come to the schools, talk to the principal about it, share what’s going on in your family. And then we’ll try to provide the supports for the kids that need it,” she said.