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I was a free school lunch kid (and does your family qualify?)

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Ever since our son Hugo was born, my husband and I talk more about how our families lived when we were young. This month, after volunteering with Lunch Box Express with my Colorado Children’s Campaign colleagues, I shared with him my experience as a child who received free and reduced school lunch, realizing that it could be a young me hanging out in the schoolyard that day eating a healthy meal delivered in an old school bus.

I remember what it feels like to eat at school with a ‘special’ meal card that is different from everyone else’s, the embarrassment of being from a poor family tempered by gratitude for a full stomach. I remember my mom’s persistence in registering us for free/reduced cost school lunch year after year, making sure all the required forms were completed and procedures followed. And now that I’m a parent, I understand how important free school lunch was for our family budget and for my development as a young person.

Summer Break is When Kids Go Hungry

When I started working with the Colorado Children’s Campaign this spring to engage moms in advocacy to benefit kids in Colorado, I learned that summer vacation is the time of year when children are most at risk of going hungry. Our KIDS COUNT data shows that 40 percent of kids in Colorado qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means that when they’re out of school, they may not have access to nutritious food on a regular basis. And since Colorado has the fastest growing rate of child poverty in the nation, more kids than ever rely on the lunch they get at school to fuel their brains and bodies.

To help Colorado families who struggle to provide their kids enough food, there are hundreds of summer food sites throughout the state where any child age 18 and younger can receive free meals. To find the site nearest you, visit Hunger Free Colorado’s Summer Food Service Program website or call toll-free 1-877-934-8643.

Hunger Free Hotline

If you or someone you know needs support to provide ample food for your family, Hunger Free Colorado can help you navigate the state’s complicated food assistance programs. The Hunger Free Hotline a new bilingual toll free statewide resource which can help to locate both public and private food assistance programs – from food pantries to food stamps. Hotline operators will ask a few questions so they can recommend the best resources for your unique situation.

The Hunger Free Hotline is available 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and can be reached at
Statewide, toll free: (855) 855-4626
Denver Metro: (720) 382-2920

Free or Reduced Lunch (and Breakfast) at School

With school starting soon, it is important to make sure the kids you know who might need the assistance are signed up for free or reduced cost school lunch. (Many schools also offer breakfast.) Families must submit a new application every year for their child to qualify. The applications are frequently sent home with your children at the beginning of the school year or you can get an application from the main office at your child’s school. To find information about free and reduced lunch in your school district, visit the list on the Colorado Children’s Campaign website.

As someone who received free school lunch, I know personally the impact that a healthy school meal can have on a child’s daily life. For today’s parents who work hard to support their families but still struggle to put food on the table, like my mom, the summer food program and the Hunger Free Hotline are vital resource to ensuring their kids grow up healthy.

Were you a free school lunch kid? What was your experience? Do your kids qualify for free/reduced cost school lunch? What does the program mean to your family?

Guest blogger Jacinta (Jacy) Montoya Price is the Community Groups Coordinator at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Free and reduced priced school meals and the summer food program are just two examples of the types of programs the Children’s Campaign advocates for in order to ensure a level playing field for all of Colorado’s more than 1.2 million kids. To get involved in the work of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, visit

Photo: The author on the first day of school, 1984. Picture taken by her mother.

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  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber July 29, 2011

    My parents divorced when I was in elementary school. Reduced cost lunches were a blessing to our family through some tough years as we all found a new sense of normalcy. I think this is a necessary and noble cause – summer programs are a fabulous idea. Thank you, Colorado Children’s Campaign, for making a positive difference in our state!

  • comment avatar Suzanne Bastien July 29, 2011

    My kids all are on free/reduced lunches. Teenagers up to elementary school kids and they always have. Luckily there is not “special card” anymore. It’s just a number like all the other kids.

    It’s a wonderful blessing to have because feeding a football player doesn’t always fall into our budget more than once a day. 🙂 With 7 kids we are always living paycheck to paycheck and these breakfast/lunches help us every day.

    Two working parents sometimes need more help and these programs are a blessing.

  • comment avatar Lisa July 31, 2011

    Thanks for sharing your perspective as a young child and your honesty about the mixture of embarrassment and gratitude you felt. Accepting help can be a struggle.

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