January 30, 2010 - Blairsville, Georgia and the National School Lunch Program 2010
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 30 million children across the United States each school day. The program also includes reimbursement for breakfasts and snacks served to children in after school programs.
Union County serves an average of 2200 student lunches and 1000 student breakfasts every school day. The lunch participation is approximately 87 percent which exceeds the state average of 75 percent. (Some kids do not participate and choose to bring their lunch from home or leave early for work study programs.) Due to the current economy, close to 60 percent of students now get free or reduced rates.
Union County Nutrition Program Director Kathie McAfee, R.D. says, "The program is much more than just lunch. It includes breakfast, after school snacks, and summer programs. There is also the Fruit and Vegetable Program in the Elementary School that provides daily snacks of fresh fruits and vegetables to the students. The program is also undergoing revisions to include more whole grains and provide larger servings of fruits and vegetables. Kids (and adults) need mor
Union County Schools are making concerted efforts to offer more low fat choices in the meals. Many of the foods that have been commonly fried are now baked in ovens. An abundance of raw fruit and vegetables and lower fat products such as low fat mayo and Butter Buds help keep fat intake down.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, "USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers the program and reimburses participating schools' foodservice departments for the meals served to students. To receive reimbursement, schools must serve lunches that meet minimum nutritional guidelines of one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance ( RDA ) of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. No more than 30 percent of the meal's calories can come from fat, and no more than 10 percent can come from saturated fat."
School districts that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and donated commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements and offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children.
Kathie explains, "The commodities we receive are not inferior foods. If fact, they are superior foods. The guidelines are very strict. The food we serve is good food." Kathie always eats lunch in one of the Union County School System's cafeterias. She says, "I have eaten our lunches every school day for 23 years - except one. That was when a supplier insisted I eat out."
Any child in the Union County School System may purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. (For example - a family of four earning $28,665 or less is eligible for free lunches. A family of four earning $40,793 or less is eligible for reduced price lunches at a cost of 40 cents each.) Regular paid lunches are priced at an average of $1.80. Without government subsidy, meal prices would be considerably higher in price.
Snacks are provided to children who participate in the After School Enrichment Programs. In Union County , all students who participate in the after school programs receive free snacks. Additionally, all students who participate in the summer programs receive free breakfast and lunch.
No local tax dollars go into the school lunch programs. The program is mostly funded by the USDA and the rest is collected from parents and children. In addition to cash reimbursements, schools are entitled by law to receive USDA foods (called entitlement foods). They also receive bonus foods - as they become available from surplus agricultural stocks. The variety depends on quantities available and market prices. Seventy-nine percent of raw food is purchased and 21% is received from USDA.
Kathie adds, "Union County Schools purchase lots of fresh produce on a weekly basis. We look for quality food at the best market price and utilize commodities to the greatest extent possible." Bonus commodities are over and above entitlement and help to stretch the food dollar. So far during the current school year, Union County has received $35,000 in bonus turkey, pork roast, cheese, blueberries, cherries, and apricots. This is a higher level of bonus commodities than received in the past and has helped Union County combat the rising cost of purchased food. Entitlement commodities of $82,000 for SY0910 include a variety of cheese, frozen and canned fruits & vegetables, ground beef, poultry, and pork.
One of the hardest parts of Kathie's job is balancing nutrition and student acceptance. She says, "If the children won't eat it, they won't get the nutritional benefits. We have had great success with our chef salads. Union County chooses to serve lots of variety and choices to students. A choice of plate starts in kindergarten and multiple choices are increased as the student progresses through school. It is rewarding to walk into the school kitchens and cafeterias and see the direct results of our team efforts."
Kathie McAfee is responsible for the operation of the school system's Breakfast and Lunch Program, along with the After School Snack, Summer Program, and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant. She says, "I truly love my job. Being a Registered Dietitian, my career interest has always been in the food business."
Kathie holds a Masters and Specialist in Education with her major being School Food Service. Her job offers a great deal of variety including business, education, administration, nutrition, food production, and food procurement. She adds, "Since Union County is a fairly small system, I can provide more on-site technical assistance to the school nutrition food managers and have more direct contact with school site employees. I make an effort to assist and relieve managers of as many record keeping responsibilities as possible. The free and reduced program and the USDA commodity program consume a good portion of my time. With over fifty percent of our income being from Federal sources, we are under many Federal regulations, along with State and local policies. Among other things, it is my responsibility to assure that our program is in compliance with all regulations."
The School Nutrition Program is self supportive. Income is generated from meal collection and federal reimbursement. Each month, income and expenses, net worth, cost per meal, labor, supplies, commodities, and equipment resources are analyzed. Operating the program is challenging, but Kathie McAfee and her staff manage to get the job done.
She adds, "Dealing with personnel is sometimes even more challenging than operating a million plus 'business'. We have a fine group of approximately 42 personnel. We provide 30 hours of classroom training to new employees within their first year of employment. Also, in-service training is provided to all employees on a yearly basis. All wages, salaries, and benefits for Nutrition Program employees are paid from Nutrition funds."
Food safety and sanitation are also very important to the people in Blairsville, Georgia. There are several working plans in place that reduce the risk of food borne hazards to children in Union County schools.The Union County School System does a great job in providing nutritional and appealing foods to our young people.