IONIA COUNTY, Mich. -- All elementary students in Ionia Public Schools are given free hot lunches if they'd like, thanks to a broader statewide qualification.
This year, the Michigan Department of Education began including Medicaid as a way for students to qualify for free lunch, as part of its Community Eligibility Provision.
"There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in this case there really is!" said Tracy Nelson, Ionia Public Schools' Food Services Director.
"Now that Medicaid is a way for the state to directly certify students as free lunch, more students are on this list."
Since the change, Nelson tells FOX 17 more students are enjoying their hot school lunch.
"This is like my dream job: to be able to feed hungry kids, it’s really a great feeling," she said.
Rather Elementary School Principal Darin Magley says they are one of two schools added to the five elementary schools in the district that now qualify for free lunch in the CEP program. Magley calls it a "blessing" that ends any stigmas.
"We have more kids now eating hot lunch, which is what you’d expect if it’s free, but I think that’s a really good thing that they can get a nice warm meal."
"This way, everybody’s going through the lunch line, everybody’s free, nobody’s paying, and so it doesn’t really cause any issues in terms of one student looking different from another. We’re all the same, we’re all getting free lunch: it’s a huge blessing for our families."
After last school year, Nelson says districtwide, there was about $3,000 in lunch debt. From finances to full to feeding everyone, it's a win-win.