52 OKC schools now giving students free lunches

OKLAHOMA CITY – There are now free lunches for students at more than 50 Oklahoma City Schools.

The state’s largest district is following other urban districts like Houston and Chicago in taking advantage of a new federal initiative, the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision.

Kevin Huffman’s job at Spencer Elementary has changed a little bit.

“I used to take the money,” he said Thursday.

But he’s no longer a bill collector at the end of the lunch line – the guy who had to break the embarrassing news to kids coming from struggling families.

“When you say (to them) ‘if you don’t bring your money, it’s going to be a cheese sandwich’… I felt about that big,” he said, squeezing two fingers an inch apart. “Because we can’t bend the rules.

“So they had something in their belly, but all the other kids were getting like the pasta dish today.”

But now, every child gets every nutritious item in line because every lunch at Spencer is now free.

“So there won’t be this stigma that this individual child qualifies and this one doesn’t,” Deborah Taylor, with OKCPS Child Nutrition Services, said. “All the children will be on the same playing field.”

52 schools in the OKC district are now a part of a USDA program to give kids free lunches, regardless of income.

They meet federal requirements because their families receive government assistance, like SNAP of TANF.

Now, the lunch line moves faster.

“So they’ll have time to sit and eat, and that is a really big deal,” Taylor said. “If a kid can’t eat it, if they don’t eat it, it’s not healthy.”

Kevin Ponce is the OKCPS Child Nutrition Director.

“It’s great for kids,” he said. “It eliminates a lot of the paperwork. No meal applications.”

Their parents are grateful for that, and Huffman doesn’t have to see a child cry anymore, because all they could afford was a cheese sandwich.

“It is so much easier to make sure they have a full tray rather than trying to beg the children, ‘remember tomorrow, please bring money’,” he said.

OKCPS is working to identify more schools that can participate in the USDA provision in the coming years.

Click here for more information on the USDA free lunch program (Community Eligibility Provision)