MISSOULA - From eggs to gas, and even clothes — inflation has impacted many across the nation.
Thousands of Missoula County Public Schools students will be feeling the pinch in the lunch line.
There will no longer be a free lunch for all students.
Instead, MCPS is increasing the price of school food while pushing students to apply for free or reduced lunch programs and outside resources.
However, child nutrition experts say it’s better for students to eat at school rather than pack a lunch.
“This is the busiest year we’ve had in the 41-year history of Missoula Food Bank and Community Center,” noted Interim Executive Director Kelli Hess.
The Missoula Food Bank has offered after-school food, and meals over the weekends, to students in need for more than a decade with their programs.
“These are meals that are supposed to keep kids nourished all throughout the weekend, so they can come to school Monday, ready to learn,” explained Child Nutrition and Program coordinator Ashley Clark.
Food banks have reported seeing an influx of families experiencing food insecurity due to Inflation. Now the price hike of food is leaking into school lunchrooms.
“It just was at that point where we had to do it, and it's hard because meals have been free for the last two years, noted Stacey Rossmiller with MCPS.
Starting at the beginning of this 2022-2023 school year, the price of school meals at MCPS will be bumped up by 25¢.
“We hold off on increasing meal prices as long as we possibly can because we don't like to do that, but this year, it just hit the point where we just don't have a choice,” Rossmiller said.
There’s a reason behind the push from the school system to get households to apply for the program.
“We get more money in federal funding for those who are on free and reduced than we do for those who are not on meal benefits,” Rossmiller told MTN News.
That funding can be distributed to other areas of the school system like better food selections, and discounts for student services and increased wages.
While the price hike might dig into the family budget, child nutrition experts say the best thing to do is to pay for your child to eat at school.
Free meal options are also available outside of the lunchroom for students.
“Right now, we’re serving 1 in 4 people in Missoula County. So many families are walking through our doors” said Hess.
“We really try to be supportive in helping people apply for the programs. Free and reduced is one of them. SNAP is another one," Hess said. "We have amazing volunteers here that will help anybody walk through the process."
Students should have received an application in the mail to apply for free or reduced lunch at the top of August. Applications for the program are accepted year-round. Additional information can be found at https://www.mcpsmt.org/domain/849.
Watch the full MTN News back-to-school special below.