Families needing free school lunches can apply ahead of school year as pandemic waivers expire

School nutritionist encourages families to submit applications for free, reduced lunch programs

Due to the pandemic, all students in Orange County were able to get free meals at school, though that will be changing starting in August and families will have to submit applications to be eligible.

ORLANDO, Fla. – In less than a month, most Central Florida students will be back in class for the 2022-23 school year which means many will be back in the cafeteria eating breakfast and lunch.

Due to the pandemic, all students in Orange County were able to get free meals at school, though that will be changing starting in August.

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“During the last couple of years, due to the waivers, they allowed us to feed the students at no charge,” Javier Vasquez said.

Vasquez is a senior administrator with food services at Orange County Public Schools.

“What we are doing is collecting free and reduced applications again and we will make that determination once applications are submitted, so we are encouraging all families to just submit an application,” Vasquez said.

Even though students will now have to apply for the free or reduced meal program, Orange County Public Schools said it does not plan to increase meal prices this year.

On Tuesday, hundreds of food vendors attended this year’s School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference at the Orange County Convention Center.

Lori Adkins, with the School Nutrition Association, explained the last two years have been a challenge for most school districts in the country considering supply chain shortages and inflation.

“The supply chain challenges have been incredible. School districts have done everything they can just to make sure they have the foods that they need to serve students,” Adkins said.

A big eye-opener this fall will be the changes in federal waivers and the elimination of free meals for all students.

Adkins said students who are eligible for the free meal program will have to apply ahead of the new school year.

“Students that qualify for the program will have to fill out a paper application and that’s the only way we can qualify kids to receive a meal at no cost,” she said.

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About the Author:

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!