5 Missoula schools to offer free breakfast, lunch


MISSOULA, Mont. - A new program coming to Missoula will offer free school breakfast and lunch for students. It's called the Community Eligibility Provision Program.

The program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and applies to schools in areas where there is a high concentration of people receiving assistance.

In Missoula, it applies to four elementary schools -- Franklin, Hawthorne, Lowell and Russell -- as well as C.S. Porter Middle School.

Last year, schools in 11 states participated. Now all 50 states, including Montana, are covered.

NBC Montana found out that the program will benefit students five days a week, for four years, starting in August.

The program will apply to all families at the school, regardless of their income, and will impact as many as 1,700 students.

"We won't ever refuse to feed a child. We'll always feed them," said Missoula County Public Schools Supervisor of Food and Nutrition Stacey Rossmiller.

Free breakfast and lunch for the entire school year comes after Missoula County Public Schools looked at the Community Eligibility Provision Program.

"If your student population has a 60 percent or more direct certification rate, we then qualify for the Community Provision Eligibility Program," said Rossmiller.

Parents won't have to fill out an application for their children to qualify, because their students already do.

The program will cost nothing for Missoula County Public Schools.

"We get federal reimbursement off of every meal that we serve. We're actually not going to lose any money on it. Food service can't lose any money because we are an enterprise fund and we get no funding from the general fund. We are completely supporting ourselves," said Rossmiller.

But there is a cost. NBC Montana found a 2010 study by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated the cost by the end of next year that will total $11.9 billion. However, the bottom line cost is still uncertain.

For people like Rossmiller, a free meal with a fruit, vegetable, grain and proteins means more than dollars and cents.

"The behavior problems and the tardies drop dramatically, so it will allow us to reach more kids and those kids who may not necessarily be eating," said Rossmiller.

NBC Montana talked to parents to see what they think about the program.

"It's a great opportunity for all the parents and the children to have free lunches. Its saves them so much money," said Robyn Szczukowski, a mother of a student at Franklin Elementary.

"It would be awesome if they would have it in any school district because I don't know very many people who have kids that can't use a little extra assistance," said Erica Morlan, a mother who wants to see the program expand to Hellgate Elementary where her kids attend.

The program will start on the first day of school on August 27.

The school district has roughly $45,000 in outstanding student debt on meal accounts. Rossmiller hopes this program will eliminate that.

She also hopes that more schools can eventually be added to the program.