School Meal Application Drive Hosted by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance’s No Kid Hungry Arkansas Campaign Sees Increase in 2023 School District Participation
Over 100 school districts are participating in this year’s school meal application incentive program,
a 27% increase from the previous year.
What are school meal applications, anyway?
Most Arkansas schools participate in federal meal programs that help provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free meals to school children each day. Schools send school meal applications home at the beginning of each school year for parents to fill out. The information provided helps determine who is eligible for free and reduced-price meals, but that’s not all—it also affords students other benefits including free summer school, free ACT testing, reduced college application fees, and reduced fees for internet. Schools benefit, too. With accurate student data provided by school meal applications, more students eat school meals, school districts increase the benefits offered to students and schools improve their funding opportunities. Some school districts even qualify for reduced internet service fees.
Why do schools need an incentive program for meal applications?
During the pandemic, meal applications were not required for students to receive school meal benefits. That changed for the 2022/2023 school year and to assist school nutrition teams in Arkansas, the No Kid Hungry Arkansas Campaign created an incentive program to help ensure student participation.
“It’s so important that parents fill out the free and reduced application,” said Vivian Nicholson, Breakfast Programs Director at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. “We were so fearful that after COVID, when meals had been free to all, parents wouldn’t remember to fill out the application. We wanted a drawing for a gift card to encourage parents to return completed applications and have a chance to win something. So, we put it out there. And the school districts promoted it.”
How Does it Work?
The Alliance provides customizable posters, social media materials, and complementary gift cards to school districts who want to participate in the meal application incentive program. Flyers and social media posts help spread the word throughout the district about the drawing prizes, application deadline, and informs parents about the benefits of meal application data. Parents who submit school meal applications on time are entered into a drawing for the gift card. Some districts enrich and customize the drawing prize package by adding school t-shirts and other goodies. Several districts asked local businesses to help provide back-to-school drawing prizes.
“It’s fun to see how each district customizes the program for parents,” said Vivian. “We know that parents are filling out the applications and that means free meals for kids if they qualify.”
The positive results of the meal application incentive program in Arkansas prompted the United States Department of Agriculture to encourage other states to adopt the program.
Incentives for this year’s meal application drive were provided by: