The number of children receiving free or reduced-price school lunches is expected to rise as St. Lawrence Countys economy continues to struggle.
Although the final numbers for this year wont be known for several weeks, applications are pouring in ahead of the October expiration of last years program, and schools already are seeing an increase over last years figures.
Free and reduced-price lunch programs are administered through the state Education Department. To qualify for free lunches, a family of four must make $29,965 a year or less. To qualify for reduced-price lunches, a family of four must make $42,643 a year or less.
I have seen an increase in free and reduced meals for the last three years, said Jane M. Wagoner, Morristown Central School District food services director.
So far, 215 students, or 54 percent of enrollment, are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at Morristown this year, she said. That is up from 189 students last year, and applications are still coming in.
In the Ogdensburg City School District, the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches so far is lower than last years total, but the number is expected to rise as the month goes on.
In the next two weeks, we will probably see 200 to 300 applications come in, said Brian R. Mitchell, Ogdensburg food services manager.
At Ogdensburg, 55 percent of the student body, or 946 children, receives free or reduced-price lunches.
The average school district in St. Lawrence County has 51.2 percent of its students on the free or reduced-price lunch program.
Both Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Wagoner point to the poor economy.
We dont have a lot of factories anymore; employment is tough around here, Mr. Mitchell said.
Ms. Wagoner said she expects the numbers to continue to rise. The work force isnt what it used to be, she said. Parents are getting laid off.
Heuvelton Central School District cafeteria manager Steve Adams also said he has gotten more applications compared with last year, though he did not have the final numbers tallied.
Across the board last year in Heuvelton, we were just under 40 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, Mr. Adams said. I am expecting it to be slightly more this year.
According to NYSED, that is up from 31 percent of Heuvelton students relying on the programs in 2010.
Lisbon Central School District has seen an increase from 39 percent of its students using the programs in 2010 to 43 percent so far this year, according to cafeteria manager Rick Anderson.
Mr. Adams said he believes the program is not as well-utilized as it could be. A lot of times, people dont fill out the application, he said. I believe there are more people who are eligible.