PALM SPRINGS – After working doggedly for five years, Stephanie Bruce, director of Nutrition Services for the Palm Springs Unified School District, has secured for all students, in all grades, in the district free breakfast and lunch.

You heard correctly. Free breakfast — and free lunch.

The district will begin serving the free meals when classes begin on Aug. 8.

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Stephanie Bruce

“I’m so excited,” Bruce told Uken Report in a telephone interview. “It’s been a long time  coming. I love what I do.”

All students enrolled in the district, which includes schools in Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Rancho Mirage, will be served lunch and breakfast at no charge for at least the next four years, through June 2020.

For the past decade, about 7,000 students have been receiving free breakfast. She expects that number to remain about the same.

The announcement comes at a time when families are budgeting for back-to-school supplies, clothes, school photos and more. This will save them a significant amount of money. Though many students were already receiving free or reduced-price lunches, many were not. Elementary children paid $2.25 for lunch; high school students paid $2.75 per lunch.

Bruce anticipates serving about 13,000 lunches per day.

“The Board of Education is excited about expanding the school nutrition program to include ALL of our students,” President James Williamson said in a prepared statement. “A child who is hungry cannot learn. The District is committed to doing anything we can to ensure a supportive learning environment.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eating a healthy breakfast is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.16–18

The free meals come courtesy of Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) through the United States Department of Agriculture. CEP  provides a non-pricing meal option for school districts in low-income areas, allowing the District to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications. Instead, schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

PSUSD is eligible for the program because at least 40 percent of the students come from low-income families.

Districts that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals.

Though applications for free or reduced lunch are no longer necessary, the District still requires parents to fill out an annual “education benefit form” to ensure that all classrooms receive the maximum amount of funding possible. Forms can be completed online at https://benefitform.psusd.us.

The school district already serves free suppers to about 5,000 children through the Child and Adult Care Program, Bruce said.

PSUSD is the only school district in the Coachella Valley to receive the Community Eligibility Provision.