Missoula County Giving More Free Meals to Students

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Tough economic times have led to most students getting meals for free or at a greatly reduced price, a Missoula County Public Schools official says.

Food and Nutrition Services Supervisor Valerie Addis said that’s a complete reversal of a few years ago when most students in the district were paying full price for meals.

“It’s the biggest demographic change I’ve seen in my entire life, and I’ve been doing this for 33 years,” Addis told The Missoulian.

On Wednesday, the district served 2,218 breakfasts, with 75 percent free or at a reduce price. Of the 4,202 lunches, more than half were free or at a reduce price.

The district has teamed with the Missoula Food Bank, and on Fridays about 600 students are allowed to fill their backpacks with free food to help their families.

“It’s almost enough to get us through the weekend,” said Andrea Hanson, whose 8-year-old son is one of 200 at Franklin Elementary who gets a weekend supply of food.

The district also reports that some 25 percent of students are classified as homeless, meaning they don’t have a permanent place but may be living with grandparents, or aunts and uncles.

Kristi Gough, a program director at Women’s Opportunity Resource Development, which administers the McKinney-Vesto Homeless Assistance program, said 425 students are classified as homeless in Missoula County Public Schools.

“We really noticed a big upswing two years ago, and it’s continuing to climb,” she said. “I was actually kind of shocked when I did numbers yesterday.”

The poverty rate in Montana in 2007-2008, the most current dates available, was 17.8 percent.

“And it’s certainly higher than that now,” said Larry Swanson, an economist with the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. “Any time you get above 10 or 11 percent, you’re looking at fairly high poverty rates.”

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