Free and reduced lunch recipients reach all new high in Coos Bay Schools

By Chelsea Pettett | Graphic Designer

What one wears or who one spends time with are challenges students often face. For some with limited financial resources, one more challenge may include the change of color on a computer screen.

This color change occurs when students who receive free or reduced lunch scan their finger on a small red pad in order to purchase their food. MealTime, the lunch program that the Coos Bay Public School District uses, keeps track of how much money each student has in their account and any food allergies a student may have, among  other things. Though this program is completely anonymous, the social effects recieving free and reduced lunches have on students are still relevant.

“Some kids can’t just go out and buy lunch every day,” junior Chaynee-Raven Hill said. “Some of us need the help that we get.”

Marshfield High School Principal Greg Mulkey agrees.

“Students talk and things get spread around, but there’s no reason to be embarrassed over it,” Mulkey said. “That’s the way our economy has made it.”

In order to receive free or reduced lunches, a family application may be filled out during student registration at the beginning of each school year, but students can apply at any time. It requires simple information such as the student’s name, address, number of family members in the household and the monthly income of the family.

The need for free and reduced lunches appears to be growing in Coos Bay. Coos Bay School District already provides free breakfast each school day for all children enrolled, but many students struggle to pay for lunch, which averages between $1.50 and $2.75 in the district. According to Superintendent Dawn Granger, 58.23 percent of students in the district are receiving either free or reduced lunch in 2012, which is the highest it has ever been. At MHS, 48.3 percent of students receive free lunches and 7.4 percent receive reduced price lunches of the 1,041 students enrolled.

“Because free and reduced lunch is being needed more often, it’s being more accepted,” Granger said. “We’re getting all the help we need.”

Free and reduced lunch averages are not only high at Marshfield. Madison Elementary School is the highest in the community, with 74.7 percent free and 6.7 percent reduced lunches. Sunset Middle School follows close behind, with 67.2 percent free and 9.2 percent reduced lunches.

With the child poverty rate at 19.8 percent in Oregon, which is almost as high as the national average of 21.6 percent, Oregon ranks exceptionally high compared to other states.

“There’s a lot of states in this situation,” Food Service Director Sid Hall said. “We’re doing our best, but with the economy the way it is, we can only do so much.”

Granger believes the community has been very helpful by providing support with other poverty based issues, such as lack of clothes or school supplies. Through events like the “Bus Jam,” it is easier on local schools to feed children.

“The community is responding more with everything, not just food,” said Granger. “The cool thing about this community is people give things even when they have little money.”

Though students are grateful to receive help where food is concerned, some would prefer not needing the help in the first place.

“Of course it’s nice to get it,” Hill said. “But sometimes I wish I wasn’t in this situation.”