Demand up for free, reduced-price school lunches

As administrator over Mansfield's free and reduced-price lunch program, Debbie Wooten sees the effects of this year’s economic downturn on the faces of the parents who come to her office looking for help.

The district processed 5,000 applications for free and reduced-price lunches during the first month and a half of school. At the same time last year, 3,600 applications had been processed. Usually the jump in applications is about 500, she said.

For many, this is the first time they've applied for the federal free or reduced-price lunch for their children, Wooten said.

"You can tell they're embarrassed to be down on their luck, and we just tell them everyone’s been there and it's a program for them," said Wooten, supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal benefit program for Mansfield schools.

It's not unusual for number of applications for free and reduced-price lunches to increase from year to year. And while other area district haven’t seen the dramatic increases that Mansfield did, federal officials say more families need help with food. The number of families receiving food stamps this summer was up 9 percent from last summer.

Lisa Wolfe, the mother of a Mansfield middle-schooler, lost her job in November and hasn't found permanent work since. For several weeks, her 14-year-old son had been reading a book instead of eating lunch. She says he was approved for free lunches last week.

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