Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, will make free meals available for all students during the 2022-23 school year, according to a BUSD press release.
Bonnie Christensen, nutrition services director at BUSD, said in an email the change will provide meals to all district students 18 and younger at no charge. Christensen noted that prior to this change, only qualifying students had access to free or reduced meals, in accordance with the National School Lunch Program.
“It is in the best interest of our students that California has determined that meals must be accessible to all our students for free so that we do not overlook any of our students,” Christensen said in the email. “Really, this is in the best interest of everyone in our community.”
According to Christensen, the federal guidelines for determining qualification are equal across states, but not equitable for students. She noted that the eligibility for free and reduced meals is based on the national poverty level.
This baseline qualification, according to Christensen, leads to inequities as the eligibility does not take into account the student’s cost of living by area. Due to this, she alleged that “some of the neediest” students are “overlooked.”
“Equal for all states but inequitable,” Christensen said in the email. “In the context of public schools and learning in addition to providing for our children, hungry children do not thrive either intellectually, emotionally or physically.”
Christensen also noted that BUSD parents want their children to have healthy meals. She added that the fruits and vegetables provided through BUSD meals are mostly organic, include less pesticides and are grown in safe soil, as compared to non-organic food which could contain unsafe chemicals.
Christensen said BUSD uses products that are locally sourced from Bay Area businesses such as City Baking for breakfast items, All Star Tamales for “Mexican items” and fresh fruit from a local collective named Food4Thought.
“Berkeley Unified School District is deeply committed to caring for the whole child and to equity,” Christensen said in the email. “We are constantly sourcing ingredients and products with an eye towards locally owned businesses.”