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Jackson schools offer free lunches for limited time

Jackson R-2 School District students will be able to eat breakfast and lunch for free at the schools for a limited time. The free meal program started on Oct. 1 and will continue through Dec. 31, as long as funding remains available.

The free meals, which are available to all students, are made possible through COVID-19 relief funding from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Director of Communications Merideth Pobst added that both in-person and Ignite Online students can receive the free meals.

“Even before the free meals started, Ignite Online students have been able to put in an order and say if they would like to pick up lunch,” she said.

The free lunch provided is the “hot tray of the day.” Students in middle school, junior high and high school can purchase additional items for lunch, but only the hot tray will be free. The program will also cover Second Chance Breakfast, if the regular breakfast time is missed.

Lunch money deposited in student’s accounts will be held for future use when the free meal program expires or can be used by students to purchase additional food items.

Associate Superintendent of Safety and District Operations Keenan Kinder said the USDA program, called the Seamless Summer Option, initially reimbursed free meals during the spring and summer while the school was closed.

Kinder added that the program continued as schools reopened, but required the schools to be an “open site” where anyone under 18 years old could eat. Kinder said this was not pursued by the district because they wanted to stay as closed as possible to visitors in order to contain COVID-19.

Toward the end of September, DESE changed the rules of the program and allowed districts to apply for a waiver allowing them to be a “closed site.”

Kinder said DESE made this change in response to numerous districts that qualified like Jackson but did not want to be open.

The USDA and DESE will reimburse the district for every meal served. Kinder said the reimbursement will be higher than what the district was charging students before Oct. 1, with the district receiving $1.89 for every breakfast meal and $3.51 for every lunch.

Kinder added that during the first two days of the free meals, the district saw 300 more students eat breakfast at school and more than 200 additional students eat the school’s lunch each day.

Prior to Oct. 1, the district had 1556 students qualify for free meals and 407 students qualify for reduced-cost meals. Pobst said the district is thrilled to be able to help more families with this program.

“The staff was so excited to see this happen because they see these kids that may not qualify for that free or reduced lunch application, but whose families are working poor or have other financial hardships,” Pobst said. “Those kids can really benefit from this.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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