No child left hungry: Holmen nutrition leader pushes for permanent free school lunch

Holmen School District nutrition director says school lunch should be "part of the school day."
Nutrition Expansion Urged

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – One school leader in Holmen wants school lunch bills to disappear for good. The United States Department of Agriculture is helping pay for lunches for all students this year, but that service will expire at the end of June.

“You see a nice school building like we have here and it’s kind of hard sometimes to see beyond that,” Michael Gasper said, nutrition director for the Holmen School District.

The pandemic shined a spotlight on an issue that was always there.

“I think it’s a shame that there’s kid that go to bed, the kids that leave here on Friday, they don’t eat again until they come back on Monday,” Gasper said. “That’s a shame.”

Gasper would like the USDA to continue to take school lunch bills off the backs of parents.

“We would really like to see this, again, become part of the school day forever,” Gasper said.

Gasper doesn’t want school lunch to be a hope for students.

“We’re paying that cost indirectly when kids are going hungry when kids are not doing well in school because they are hungry,” Gasper said.

Holmen High School junior Avery Bailey sees a gap in people’s understanding of food.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say, ‘I don’t know why you go hunting or anything like that,'” Bailey said. “‘I mean you can just go to the supermarket and buy the animal.’”

Avery is involved with Future Farmers of America (FFA). She is working on some projects raising animals for Holmen’s Farm to School program.

“The Italian sausage she raised that we’ll be using came from the pigs she raised,” Gasper said.

Bailey did not grow up on a farm. This passion is her choice. Bailey said her aunt and grandpa’s farms formed her love for the industry.

“I love doing it. I love raising my animals,” Bailey said. “I love showing them.”

She understands her role matters for the future of this community.

“You see all these farms go under and it all becomes housing,” Bailey said. “It doesn’t go back into farmland. You gotta do more with less.”

Meals produce more than a full stomach.

“They focus better, they test better,” Gasper said. “Academically, they just do better.”

First-grade teacher Tim Nielsen said he notices the impact school lunch has on his classroom.

“I think it just makes school a more safe place for them,” Nielsen said. “They’re ready to learn, they’re ready to socialize and work with one another too.”

Holmen wants healthy nutrition to become just another part of the school day.

“When you get to see the people enjoying the meal at school, it makes it all worth it,” Bailey said.

Gasper is urging Congress to permanently expand the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs at no charge. Next month, school nutrition professionals from across the country will meet virtually with members of Congress to discuss the issue.