The days of students being served a cheese sandwich and milk because they forgot their sack lunch or money could be over at Ardmore City Schools’ cafeterias.

The district will apply this month for the Community Eligibility Provision tool through the Oklahoma State Department of Education and, if approved, cafeteria staff will dish out nutritious meals to all students at no charge.

“What this means for us is that we can serve 100 percent of our students breakfast and lunch for free,” says Jennifer Roach, director of child nutrition.

This is the first opportunity that school districts have to apply. The Community Eligibility Provision was established in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. The act strives to ensure that students from low-income families and those who live in high-poverty neighborhoods have access to healthy meals at school.

Districts have until the end of June to apply for the program. Selected districts will need to prove that more than 40 percent of the students are on a directly certifiable program, which automatically approves a student for a free meal without completing the application.

Roach says 61 percent of Ardmore City Schools students are on a directly certifiable program. She anticipates the district will be accepted in the community eligibility tool and, come August, lunch money will no longer be needed at the cafeterias in all six school buildings.

The Community Eligibility Provision tool would make a huge impact on the child nutrition program at Ardmore, Roach says.

By eliminating school meal applications and fees, it would reduce administrative time spent on paperwork and reduce spending on postage, as charge slips are sent to student’s homes. Additionally, it would reduce burdens for families that struggle to provide a sack lunch or pay for their child’s lunch costs.

Last August, the district participated in the Universal Breakfast program, open to all students regardless of household income. Each school morning, breakfast was served without collecting any fees.

Roach says the free breakfast program has been very successful and popular among students.

Offering hot, balanced meals at no charge during lunch would ultimately benefit the students.

If all students received a lunch for free, it would level the playing field and reduce the stigma that older students sometimes face if they eat school meals, Roach says.

“It takes the stereotype away from it,” Roach says. “If everyone is free, then no one has to wonder about someone’s family status or what program they might qualify for to get the free lunch.”

More importantly, it would end cafeteria staff making cheese sandwiches and handing out milk cartons for students who reach the third-time without money to pay for school lunch.

“It is hard to know that a kid may come through the line and get that,” Roach says. “We want to help the kids eat a good meal, and we don’t want them to not get a good lunch before they go back to class.”