From aspirations to reality: How has Canyon been impacted by free lunches at school?

How schools’ free lunch helps our community.

When thinking about school lunch one of the most common things you picture is the nostalgic hard pizza or bruised apples you grew up eating. The images of running to the lunch line and having to enter in your six-digit number flash through. For some, the price of the school lunch didn’t even cross their mind, for others, eating school lunch was a luxury as it meant a chance to eat food.

On July 9, 2021, Governor Newsom approved Assembly Bill (AB) 130, Chapter 44, Statutes of 2021, Education Finance: Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill. The AB 130 creates a California Universal Meals Program starting in 2022-2023 with modifications to the state meal requirement and new guidelines for high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision. Additionally, Education Code (EC) 49501.5 mandates that public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades TK–12 must offer two free meals (breakfast and lunch) each school day to all students who request them, regardless of whether they qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 

This required schools such as Canyon to give free breakfast and lunch meals. As a select group of students started to come back in person for the 2021-2022 school year, this new opportunity for free school lunches was introduced and many students began to eat the school meals. For example, in the 2019 school year Westwood High School in Austin TX had around 71,000 school lunches eaten over the course of the school year, while in the 2021-2022 the number spiked to 144,731 lunches eaten. The opportunity of free lunch gave some students relief while also giving their parents wallets a break. 

 While the free lunch saved some time and money for some parents, for others it gave their child an opportunity to get a guaranteed scheduled meal everyday. In addition to free school lunches some school districts including OUSD – Canyon’s school district – have now started to offer a summer meal program. This program helps families feed their children during summer break. The program provides parents with a list of locations where students receive free and nutritious meals during summer and off-breaks. 

California, being the first state to implement free school meals, received a $150 million funding to support new kitchen infrastructure upgrades and nutrition related staff training for districts as they prepare for the implementation of Universal Meals. As a result, Canyon’s new cafeteria has just opened up. Now every time the nutrition or lunch bell rings you see the line of hundreds of students waiting to get their free meal.