Haverhill Pursuing District-Wide Free Breakfast, Lunch Program

File photograph. (Image licensed by Ingram Image.)

By this time next year, city officials are hoping that no child in Haverhill schools will have to go hungry for breakfast or lunch. At the Oct. 11 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Margaret Marotta confirmed the district is pursuing avenues to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, with at least three-quarters of Haverhill schools expected to qualify for universal free breakfast and lunch.

Offered as a federal benefit through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the meal reimbursement program would supply all students at qualifying schools free, nutritious options at no cost to families. In order to qualify, Haverhill Public Schools must submit a list of eligible children and, as Marotta explained, a decline in record keeping resulted in a tally that does not accurately represent district needs.

The record keeping concern was addressed in a recent outside audit of the school system issued by the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials earlier this month.

Once totals are properly reported, the school’s reimbursement rate improves—making it a smart solution for Haverhill, Marotta said. After a school qualifies, all students receive the meal benefit regardless of income level.

“It’s a wonderful thing for families not to have to worry,” said Marotta. “Even if it’s $10-$15 a week, it’s $10-$15 per child. And the whole school has the free lunch or breakfast, so the kids don’t have to feel like they have to stand out. Everyone gets a free meal.”

Participation in the program would also cut down on paperwork and back-end administrative costs, the superintendent said.

School Committeeman Sven Amirian, who sits on the district’s Wellness Committee, applauded the effort.

“If kids aren’t coming to school well-fed, they’re already a great disadvantage to learning,” said the school committeeman. “If we can achieve this so that all our kids get a free breakfast and lunch, it eliminates that stigma and it’s assured our kids are getting the nutrition they need, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Amirian said he’d support allocating additional funding to make the program successful, as it could be a cost-saver in the long run. Marotta’s plan to pursue the program was backed by MASBO officials, who called undertaking beneficial for all Haverhill students and families.