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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Mara Kuhn AFTERNOON DELIGHT: Mountain Pine Superintendent B.J. Applegate, right, presents trays of food to elementary students Skylar Rucker, left, and Damian Shurley Tuesday from the district's new afternoon meals program. The meals are offered at no cost to the district and its families. Expenses are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Human Services. - Photo by Mara Kuhn

MOUNTAIN PINE -- Students in the Mountain Pine School District now have access to an extra meal before they leave school for the day.

Afternoon meals will be offered to students every school day through the national Child and Adult Care Food Program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Human Services. The program is administered at no expense to the district.

"A lot of them don't go home to meals," said Mountain Pine Superintendent B.J. Applegate. "And judging from our free and reduced meal count, I think our kids will benefit from it because they will have a meal, at least, to go home even without supper."

The USDA provides reimbursement for meals and snacks served by eligible programs and organizations. At least 50 percent of the children in the school attendance area must be eligible for free and reduced price school meals.

"I felt like this would benefit our community here because we are 80 percent free and reduced," Applegate said.

Approved sites must serve "nutritionally balanced meals and snacks that meet USDA's nutrition standards, with foods like milk, meat, vegetables, fruit and bread." The meals are not dictated by the same nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs from the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.

"Kids enjoy these meals more than your regular cafeteria food," Applegate said.

Reimbursable meals and snacks can be served in the CACFP to anyone ages 18 and younger. The meals are also available to other children in the community who do not attend the district.

"If anybody around here that wants to bring their kids 18 or younger to come up and eat, they are more than welcome to come up at about 3 o'clock," Applegate said.

Mountain Pine Elementary School students now return to the cafeteria at 2:50 p.m. on school days to sit and eat prepared meals. Students in the high school have the option to pick up the afternoon meals and eat in their classrooms.

"They will have time to go back to their classroom, eat their meal and be able to get on the bus at 3:15 as normal," Applegate said.

Applegate knew about the program from his time at Kirby and Prescott schools. Organizations can participate in the at-risk after-school meals component as an independent program or as a site under a sponsor.

Parents and guardians do not have to fill out any forms. No costs are charged to students' families either.

"A lot of people just don't know about it," Applegate said. "If more schools in this area looked into it, they qualify for it."

Applegate reached out to a former contact from his time at Prescott after he became superintendent at Mountain Pine this summer. The Rev. Larry Banks helped Prescott implement the program due to his knowledge from the program in West Memphis.

Banks provided information to help Prescott start its program. Prescott's program grew to provide more than 300 afternoon meals every school day.

Districts apply for the program through the DHS and must have their feeding sites inspected and approved. Banks helped Mountain Pine communicate with the federal agencies to receive approval during the school year.

The school acts as a host site. The agencies determine the serving staff and establish new accounts with vendors separate from the district's existing accounts. Applegate said the district will be able to offer the program every year as long as it continues to qualify.

Local on 01/25/2017

Print Headline: MPSD launches new meals program

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