Coquita Wilder spoke at the SNA’s 2023 Annual National Conference on how she manages her district’s food debt. | Photo credit: Benita Gingerella
Getting families to fill out free or discounted meal applications has become more difficult since the USDA exemption that allowed schools to provide free meals across the board during the pandemic expired. It has become.
At the School Nutrition Association’s annual national conference in Denver last week, Coquita Wilder, director of school lunches at Fayette County Public Schools in Fayetteville, Georgia, said she would reduce school lunch debt and provide families with free fill-outs. shared some of the ways the school district is working to encourage Reduce dietary application.
Here are five ways her team is keeping school feeding costs reasonable.
1. Review existing internal procedures
When Wilder first arrived in Fayette County, the county did not have a meal plan. While working on its development, Wilder looked to what the neighboring school districts were doing, and noted internal policies Fayette already had, such as delays in library materials and fees for his missing Chromebook. considered.
“Look at other internal procedures to see what efforts are being made in your district so you can act on them with confidence,” she said. rice field.
2. Go digital for back-to-school nights
Back-to-school nights are a great time to get parents to fill out applications for free or discounted meals, Wilder said. The nutrition team always has paper applications available during the event, but they also have posters all over the school with her QR code that links directly to the online application.
In addition, stations will be set up with Chromebooks that parents and guardians can use to fill out forms, and members of the nutrition team will be on hand if assistance is needed.
3. Make communication with parents as easy as possible
Wilder said it takes constant communication to keep tabs on meal costs. To facilitate communication between the nutrition team and families, the district’s payment software allows employees working at the cash register to press a button on the cash register to automatically notify the student’s family if the meal balance is low. will be able to send emails to
“This is a really good option for us and we are taking advantage of it,” she said.
4. Break down language barriers
For some families, the language barrier may be the reason they do not complete the meal application form. Wilder has found staff members who speak a particular family language to speak with parents can help them submit their applications.
“I have a list of all my employees and the other languages they speak. let’s do it,’ she said. . “Nine times out of 10, it has been very effective in getting families to fill out forms.”
5. Encourage Tuesday Giving
Wilder said community donations could be one way to reduce outstanding balances for districts with mounting food debt. One of the best days for him to seek out local help is Giving Tuesday, known as the Day of Making Charitable Donations, held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
“People are asking for tax cuts and looking for ways to give money away during this time,” she said. “So if you advertise and push it on social media and keep parents informed, they will reach out to you about your donation.”