California adopts free school meals permanently, local non-profit joins coalition in support

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- California is the first state to adopt free school meals for K- through 12th-grade students, a need highlighted amid the pandemic. Local school leaders say this is a step in the right direction to ending food insecurity.

Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature agreed in late June on the 2021-22 fiscal year budget to allow provisions related to the 'Free School Meals for All Act of 2021'. It's a decision set to help tens of thousands of students and families.

"The Central Valley is an area with immense poverty, so this also helps because these are two less meals that a parent would have to purchase for their child," said Genoveva Islas, Executive Director of local non-profit Cultiva La Salud.

Cultiva La Salud is one of more than 200 organizations in the state supporting the initiative. Genoveva Islas says they believe in the power and change of free meals.

"This is a huge step forward in preventing hunger."

Districts across the Valley like Fresno, Central, and Clovis Unified, among others, have been providing meals at no cost for their students amid the pandemic through federal programs.

Robert Schram, Clovis Unified Director of Campus Catering, says a meal makes a huge difference for students when hitting the books.

"If the kids are going back to class and if they only had breakfast, how successful are they going to be? So it's important to have a meal so kids can succeed in the classroom just like they have computers and books," said Robert Schram, Clovis Unified Director of Campus Catering.

Islas says although the recent bill is excellent news, the work is far from over. She's pushing to ensure the meals provided are healthy options.

"I want to make sure all of our students have access to the beautiful vegetables and fruits that we grow in our Valley."

Meanwhile, school officials will have to wait on further guidance from the state as they prepare for the new school year.

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