Mehlville approves universal free breakfast at three schools


By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The Mehlville Board of Education unanimously approved a universal free breakfast program at Beasley, Bierbaum and Forder elementaries for the 2022-2023 school year at the board’s Oct. 20 meeting. 

A universal free breakfast program is a complete breakfast available at no cost to all students, with meals claimed for federal reimbursement according to income category — free, reduced or full pay.

Reimbursement rates to the district per meal are $2.67 for free, $2.37 for reduced and 50 cents for full pay.

Mehlville launched a universal free breakfast program at Beasley in 2017 and voted to extend it through the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year and the entirety of the 2018-2019 school year, along with voting to expand the program to Forder in 2019.

“As soon as we brought on universal free breakfast (at those schools), participation pretty much increased 20 percent,” Food and Nutrition Director Katie Gegg said.

The Mehlville school food department is self-funded and Gegg estimates that with increased participation this year, the federal reimbursement will cover any costs to the district.

“We saw this before the pandemic when we did the universal free breakfast, we broke even … It works,” Gegg said.

There are a couple of different options for a district to qualify for the program. One is the community eligibility program, or CEP, where over 40 percent of students in a district must be directly certified through the state as being a part of households receiving state benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Mehlville is not a CEP district, therefore the second option is a district decision to implement the free breakfast program if a school has a free and reduced rate of around 45 percent or higher.

Beasley, Bierbaum and Forder are historically the schools in the district with the highest rates of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. Data from 2019 to 2020 shows 55 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunches at Beasley, 52 percent of students qualified at Bierbaum and 47 percent of students at Forder.

Data from 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 was not included due to the pandemic, virtual learning and waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowing school districts to feed all students for free regardless of income levels through last school year.

Data from August through October of this year shows that breakfast participation at Beasley is between 40 and 50 percent for students on free lunch, 20-30 for students who qualify for reduced lunch and about 12 percent for full-pay.

At Bierbaum, breakfast participation by pay category is about 25-35 percent for free and reduced, and 19-25 for full pay, while at Forder it’s between 30-45 percent for free and reduced, and 20 percent for full pay.

“It’s concerning to me that students from a low-income household may not be coming in for breakfast,” Gegg said. “We want them to come in and eat with us.”

Gegg encourages families who are full-pay status to apply for the free and reduced program. The school district has an application for the free and reduced lunch program on its website that is available in eight different languages.