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Eugene schools again offer free meals this school year

Two chefs standing with fresh produce in a kitchen.
Karen Richards
Eugene 4J chefs discuss the day's meal prep.

Students in Eugene 4J schools can look forward to free breakfast and lunch again this year, regardless of family income.

It’s the third year of universal free meals at 4J. This year, the program is not just continuing, it’s growing. Newly hired chef Tim Hill said the district is working to expand its scratch-made, locally-sourced food. He said the free meal program gets students to try school food, and once they try it, they keep coming back.

He said the timing of the program's inception, during the pandemic, might have been a blessing in disguise.

“It’s way more accessible to everybody," he said. "We’re trying to remove the stigma of the lunch program and free meals. Now it’s just something that kids want to do.”

Families who qualify for free and reduced lunch are encouraged to fill out a confidential application. Approved applicants can save the district as much as $1,309 per student this school year.

In 2021, the free meals were paid for through federal funding. This year and last, the 4J school board approved tapping the district’s general fund for the program.

Students in Bethel and Springfield schools will also have access to free meals this year, but those districts qualify for a federally funded program under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). It’s a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas.

A tray of fruit, left, and a tray of breakfast breads
Eugene 4J schools
Eugene 4J Nutrition Services won an award this summer for their strawberry rhubarb breakfast bars

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.