Salem-Keizer Expands Free Lunch Program Into Fall Break

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Nov. 22, 2019 6:41 p.m.

Thousands of Oregon students will have nine days out of school between the weekend before Thanksgiving through the weekend after the holiday.

That means a lengthy fall break with no after-school activities, and for some students – no lunch.


This year, Salem-Keizer will offer free lunches for any kid 18 and under on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 25 – 27).

The meals will be available at 12 schools around the district, serving a community that’s 70% free and reduced lunch – an indicator of limited family income.

Hallman Elementary isn’t one of the 12 sites, but principal Jessica Brenden is sure her students and their families will take advantage of the meals by going to nearby Washington Elementary.


“The hunger doesn’t stop because there’s no school,” Brenden said.

Every Hallman student is eligible for free lunch based on family income. Some students eat at school three times a day if they’re in an after-school program.

And sometimes, it’s more than that.

“What we find also is that when students are dysregulated in the classroom, we’re asking are you tired? Are you hungry? What do you need?” Brenden explained. “They’re telling us that they’re hungry and so we provide additional food to students in between those meals.”

It's unclear how many families will take advantage of the program, but district officials say there is a clear need.

The school offers free lunches during winter and spring break, in addition to free breakfast and lunch during summer break. According to the district, estimated average daily attendance during spring break is about 500 kids.

Brenden says the lunches build trust between families and the school. For Hallman students, it’s another example of school support that goes beyond the classroom.

“We really are a hub that does way more than teach kids reading, writing and math,” Brenden said.