Cordova schools to provide free meals

The National School Lunch Program will provide all Cordova students with a free breakfast and lunch on school days. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like the watermelon slices offered on Thursday, July 18, 2019, are also covered by a USDA grant. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Free, nutritionally balanced breakfasts and lunches will be available to Cordova elementary and high-school students when the school year commences on Aug. 21. Elementary school students will additionally receive an after-school snack.

“Your mind can’t run on an empty body,” said Sandie Ponte, food service manager for Cordova School District. “We really need these kids to be eating healthy breakfasts and lunches in order to learn.”

Menus for Cordova Junior/Senior High School and Mt. Eccles Elementary School will not be altered under the National School Lunch Program, as they already conform to nutritional standards set by the Department of Agriculture.

Ponte puts a premium on providing healthy and unprocessed food choices, she said. A salad bar is available at each meal, and even the pizza served every Wednesday has a whole-wheat crust and reduced-fat cheese. Lunches are also occasionally supplemented with fresh Copper River sockeye salmon. Snacks for elementary school students will be funded through the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, supplying kids with produce from apples and oranges to dragon fruit and rambutan.

Lunch was recently rescheduled from before recess to after recess in order to encourage children not to hurry through lunch. The change was made in consultation with Cordova teachers, who reported that it improved scholastic performance and reduced behavior issues, Ponte said.

The National School Lunch Program will also lessen the burden on parents, who will no longer have to pay for breakfast and lunch on school days.

“We don’t have a terrible problem here in Cordova, but there are kids here who definitely need it,” Ponte said.

Some features of the district’s school lunches, such as the salad bar, may be scaled back due to the planned stoppage of ferry services from October 2019-April 2020. However, the ferry stoppage does not threaten the district’s participation in the National School Lunch program, said Alex Russin, superintendent for Cordova School District.