La Crosse, Holmen school leaders say USDA free lunch extension good for students’ education

USDA extends free and reduced lunch for children into next school year
School Lunch (Holmen)

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – New data shows one out of five children faces hunger in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending its waivers for school districts so all students in local communities can eat free again next year.

School district leaders in Holmen and La Crosse know families who are trying to get by.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” said Mike Gasper, nutrition director for the Holmen School District.

The USDA helped all children eat free in 2020. The same program will exist again next year.

“They extended all the waivers that they had in place for this school year through the end of next school year,” Gasper said.

Gasper said school lunch changed a lot over the years.

“School lunch isn’t what it used to be when we were there,” he said.

The district’s Farm 2 School program teaches children how to raise animals along with fruits and vegetables.

“Today we’re actually cooking burgers made from the cows that the kids raised,” Gasper said.

We don’t often think children who worry about their next meal live right down the street.

“There’s been a lot of families affected by losing their employment, losing income,” said Marilyn Volden, nutrition supervisor for the La Crosse School District. “A lot of different stresses on the families. We have a lot of insecure children in our community.”

Gasper said free school lunch is a common-sense approach to education.

“They can focus on what they’re here to do which is learning.

“We don’t ask families how much money they make to determine if they can pay for a desk or pay for a ball in gym class or a book, but we’ve done that with meals,” Gasper said.

Gasper said this program lifts hunger’s immense weight off children’s backs and teaches them where their food comes from.

“Our students that are involved in this are involved every step of the way,” Gasper said.

Students form healthy habits they’ll apply as productive members of local communities.

“Everyone has some skin in the game so to speak,” Gasper said.

Holmen’s Hope program  will provide meals to children who are not in school during the summer. La Crosse schools are offering summer pick-up meals for students.