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ABC15 News Special Report: How some Horry County students eat for free

(WPDE)

Horry County students are eating more school lunches this year.

The district says so far there's been a 9 percent increase in student lunches and a 2 percent increase in student breakfasts.

Officials say the increase is likely linked to a free lunch program funded by the USDA.

Under the program, some Horry County students receive free food regardless of their family's income level.

Three months into the program, the school district is already calling it a success.

"You know, this this is the only meal that some of our children get," said Laura Farmer, Director of Food Services for Horry County Schools.

Across Horry County, there are families who just can't afford food.

"We want all children to eat," said Farmer. "Whether they eat with us or bring a meal, the children should have something to eat during the day to provide the nourishment because, if they're not nourished, they can't learn."

Myrtle Beach Elementary is one of 17 schools in Horry County that is offering free lunches to all students.

It pays for students' meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

Farmer said, when some students leave on Friday, they might not eat again until Monday.

"It is sad to know and to think that we have children in our communities that do not get food at home, but we do," said Farmer.

The Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, works like this--schools that have a certain percentage of children who are homeless, assisted by the Department of Social Services, or whose families receive food stamps can qualify for free meals, all funded by the USDA.

"We took all the percentages together and combined the schools in such a way that our program could still be financially secure but yet offer it to as many children and as many schools as possible," said Farmer.

She said the district's food program is self-supporting, which means they don't take money from the general fund. Their money comes from selling lunches and a-la-cart snacks, and the USDA reimbursements.

"We wish we could serve meals at no cost throughout the county, but unfortunately we can't do that. But, this is a way that we can serve as many children as possible," said Farmer.

Barb Mains sees the poverty first hand.

"It hurts your heart to see kids having to live that way. You know, you just look at them and your heart just breaks," said Mains.

Mains has been helping poverty stricken children for 28 years. Through Help 4 Kids and the Backpack Buddies program, her volunteers feed thousands of kids in Horry County every weekend.

She points out that many families in need don't want to ask for help, so you can imagine her delight that many kids can now eat for free at school with no stigmas attached and no free or reduced lunch forms needed.

"I think it's great. I love it. You know, I really do, because even children that would get reduced lunch, half the time they couldn't pay the reduced lunch," said Mains. "I mean, they don't even have 50 cents for lunch."

It would be hard to get through an entire school day on an empty stomach, so students at CEP schools can also start their day with free breakfast, filling their tummies and fueling their brains.

CEP is a four-year program.

Farmer says because of the program's success they will likely continue the program all four years. At that point, they can reevaluate to see if they want to continue the program.

The following Horry County schools are active in the CEP program:

  • Loris Elementary
  • Loris Middle
  • Daisy Elementary
  • Green Sea Elementary
  • Green Sea High
  • Palmetto Bays Elementary
  • Whittemore Park Middle
  • Homewood Elementary
  • Waccamaw Elementary
  • South Conway Elementary
  • Pee Dee Elementary
  • Socastee Elementary
  • Myrtle Beach Primary
  • Myrtle Beach Elementary
  • Myrtle Beach Intermediate
  • Myrtle Beach Middle
  • Horry County Education Center

To apply for free and reduced lunch at Non-CEP schools, click here.

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