RICHMOND, Ind. – With the end of the nationwide free school lunch program, many Hoosier parents are once again paying for their kids’ meals. But some districts have qualified to continue feeding kids for free, and more are trying to obtain that funding.

“Having to pay for breakfast, lunch and three snacks basically a day is pretty big of a burden,” said Kylee Andrews, who has a daughter in the Centerville-Abington school district.

Like many parents, Andrews is now paying for her daughter’s meals after two years of free breakfast and lunch. The money she saved before helped cover other costs like after-school activities, she said.

“Cheerleading is $9 a week, plus [the] competition fee, plus their uniforms,” Andrews said.

Some schools in Indiana qualify to continue offering free lunches and breakfasts for all students, regardless of income.

“It’s really fantastic for kids and families,” said Karen Scalf, chief financial officer for Richmond Community Schools.

In the Richmond school district, roughly three out of four students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Scalf said.

Richmond serves everyone free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, a nationwide, federally-funded program that is open to schools with at least 40% of their students in need.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, more than 40 public school corporations are enrolled in the Hoosier State, with roughly a quarter of those new to the program this year. At least two other school districts have applied to participate.

In some Richmond schools, the number of students getting lunch in the cafeteria more than doubled since the district first participated in the program in 2018, Scalf said.

“Our participation numbers are dramatically different,” she said. “And so we do see that it has increased students who are eating in our cafeterias.”

Meanwhile, with many Hoosier parents still having to pay for meals, some nonprofits are preparing for increased demand for assistance. That includes Students Fund of Hope, which has helped pay off school lunch debt for students in the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corporation.

“To pay $2.50 to whatever it is a lunch, when you times that by five, by so many days a month, that’s a utility bill,” said Whitney Budd, the organization’s president and co-founder. “That’s their water bill. That’s their electric bill.”

Many students still have the opportunity to apply for free or reduced-price lunch through their school district.