WATERVILLE — Administrators with Waterville Public Schools are urging all parents to fill out and return applications for free and reduced meals, even if they know their children are not considered eligible to receive them.

The more meal benefit applications received, the more the opportunities for schools to receive state and federal funding to support education, nutrition and enrichment programs, according to Assistant Superintendent Peter Hallen and the schools’ Finance Director Paula Pooler.

Hallen said Thursday that all children in Maine, regardless of eligibility, are being offered free breakfast and lunch in school as part of a law the state started implementing in the 2019-20 school year. Maine and California are the only two states to use the program. Some students choose to receive free meals and some do not, preferring instead to bring their own lunches or purchase them in school.

Hallen thinks that if people understand why it is important for all parents to fill out and return the applications, regardless of income, they will be happy to do so because, essentially, they are helping schools deliver services to students who need them, including Title I funding which helps improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged youth.

“It would be super helpful,” he said. “We hope that when families learn about the benefits for themselves and for the schools beyond free meals, that they will fill out the form and return them to the school.”

He said families with students attending Waterville, Winslow or Vassalboro schools can find more information by using the link to Child Nutrition Services: https://cns.aos92.org.


Families eligible for free and reduced lunch can receive grocery benefits through the pandemic EBT (electronic benefit transfer) program, according to the meal benefits application flyer issued by the state Department of Education.

Waterville schools have started receiving completed applications from parents, though fewer have been received since free meals were offered. Though there is no hard deadline for returning applications, it is most beneficial if they are returned before Oct. 1 so they are included in the first state reports, according to Hallen and John Hersey, Waterville schools’ food service director.

The total number of students in Waterville Public Schools at the start of this new school year is not yet known, but there are at least 1,562, according to Hallen. He said that number does not include Mid-Maine Technical Center, which draws 300 students from other schools to the technical center, located at Waterville Senior High School. Those schools provide free meals to the students they send to MMTC. Hallen said that each day there are more than 800 students on the high school campus.

Waterville school statistics show that a fewer number of students qualified for free and reduced lunch in 2021 than in 2017, but that is likely inaccurate because the numbers are based on the number of applications being completed and returned, not the actual need or eligibility, school officials say.

“We know that the real need has gone up, but these numbers are based on the forms submitted,” Hallen said.

In 2017, 1,195 out of a total 1,784 Waterville students, or 66.98%, were eligible to receive free and reduced lunch. In 2021, 970 of 1,650 students, or 58.79%, were considered eligible.

Pooler said meal benefit applications are mailed to parents who may complete and return them to schools, but applications also may be filled out online or through email.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story