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An average of 550 more students are eating breakfast at school compared to 2019-20 before the pandemic.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Students at Joseph Gale Elementary School line up in the cafeteria for breakfast.A new program in the Forest Grove School District has drastically increased the number of kids starting their day with breakfast.

Thanks to a "breakfast after the bell" policy — including meal carts in the hallways and permitting students to eat in morning classes — nutrition services director Laycee Pickerill said an average of 550 more students are eating school breakfast each morning so far this school year, compared to 2019-20 before the pandemic.

"No more rushing or worrying about having to get to class," Pickerill said. "The program has been such a success in helping us advance breakfast equity which is a key factor in a student's education."

Students at four elementary schools in the Forest Grove School District — Cornelius, Fern Hill, Echo Shaw and Joseph Gale — qualify for free school meals without applications. For everywhere else, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended a waiver for free school meals for all for the duration of the school year.

Last school year, between curbsides and bus-route deliveries, the Forest Grove School District, which has about 6,000 students, set up 60 different sites for students and their families to pick up meals. Some offered one stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the district responded to parent feedback to offer a week of meals at others.

While students are back in cafeterias, Pickerill said she hopes the state continues to explore flexible food service options.

This month, the state finished reimbursing families who qualify for "pandemic-EBT" cards with a final payout of $389. The program gave families flexibility to buy food and meals they otherwise would have received at school during virtual classes and over the summer.

"I don't think I could really put into words the impact that program has had our community. We could be talking thousands of dollars in groceries for our families," Pickerill said. "We have a lot of calls about P-EBT into our office, and you can just tell how important these funds were to Forest Grove families."


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