Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School scrambles for solution as access to free breakfast, lunch program ends

Free breakfast and lunch programs are in danger at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School is appealing for community support after learning that funding soon will end for its free breakfast and lunch program.

The school recently lost its “at risk” status due to changes in federal regulations, said Head of School Ellen Hartman.

“We’re truly an inclusive school, where you can attend regardless of your socioeconomic status,” she said. “That’s why we deal with issues that so many other private schools don’t have. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution here.”

Of the 145 students who attend the pre-K-8 school, about 40 children are in the breakfast program and 60 children in the lunch program, she said. As of Jan. 31, those programs will end, as the federal government continues to tighten regulations for its food programs, including the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program.

St. Stephen’s has been participating in that program since January 2018 after entering into a partnership with South Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which began providing students with a healthy breakfast and a hot lunch daily. In early January, after two years, the food bank notified the school that it no longer qualified to participate in the program.

“We didn’t meet the requirements the food bank needed for the food to continue to come here,” Hartman said. “There needs to be a certain percentage of students who need to meet a certain income level.”

Under the most current rules, 65 percent of student families must be below a certain income level, a level that the school didn’t meet, Hartman said. In addition, the “eligibility number kept fluctuating,” she said.

St. Stephen’s draws from throughout the Harrisburg area, but many students live in impoverished areas of the city, Hartman said. About one-third of students qualify for tuition assistance.

“When I came here in 2017, I observed things that didn’t settle well with me,” she said. “I observed a lot of children coming to school with plastic bags filled with random food. Sometimes, kids would come in with nothing but a pack of crackers.”

Therefore, it was welcome news when David Lloyd, the youth programs manager of the Central PA Food Bank, informed her that St. Stephen’s qualified for the free breakfast and lunch program. The food bank then began to provide the meals, she said.

Now, that program access is ending, sending school officials scrambling for a solution. Thus far, the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation has stepped up, contributing enough money so that the school can continue the program through February, Hartman said.

According to the school, the cost to feed all students is $315 a day or $5,670 a month.

After February, Hartman isn’t sure what will happen. She hopes that the community will donate enough so that, at the least, the school will be able to get through the remainder of the current academic year. This will give school officials some time to come up with a more permanent solution for next year.

“I hope the donations will cover everyone in our food program right now,” she said. “So many of these kids really need it.”

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School is located at 215 N. Front St., Harrisburg, PA, 17101. To donate, please mail a check to the school or contribute online at www.sseschool.org/donate. The school’s phone number is 717-238-8590.

Continue Reading