For the second consecutive year, the Lee County School District will offer free breakfast and lunch to all of its students.
The school district is able to do this through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Program, or CEP.
Qualification for CEP are based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced lunch programs, which are sponsored by the federal government to help offset the cost to families for school meals.
The Director of Food and Nutritional Services for Lee Schools, Lauren Couchois, said the district strove to make school meals accessible to all students.
"The main goal of the CEP program is to feed the students," Couchlois said. "We have a number of students who have told us that we are the only meal they receive"
Beyond providing meals, Couchlois said taking away the distinction between students receiving free meals and students receiving reduced-price meals, relieves them from feeling different from their peers.
"It takes that stigma away, so regardless of what’s going on at home, whether you’re able to send in money with your student or you're not, you don’t have to worry about it one way or the other," Couchlois said. "Just send them to school and rest assured that they’re going to get a good meal with us."
Couchlois also said no Lee County taxes are used to fund CEP, because it is a federal program.
Last year, Lee County Schools distributed nearly 16 million meals to students through the CEP program.