MINNEHAHA COUNTY, S.D. (KELO) — Schools across KELOLAND have been back in session for a little over a month now, and many families are once again paying for school meals.

The past two years, meals were served at no cost in public schools because of a program started at the beginning of the pandemic.

Baltic School District superintendent Bob Sittig says there’s not doubt there has been a change.

“Our participation was up the last couple years when meals were free for everybody. Both breakfast and lunch,” he said.

But now those numbers are down some.

“We’re down about 30 meals a day. We typically serve probably around 400 meals a day, so we’re down that many. Like I said, we’re just assuming they’re bringing their lunches instead of eating the school lunch when the school lunch was free,” Sittig said.

He says around 16% of students in the district are getting free and reduced lunches, a program families must apply and qualify for.

At the Dell Rapids School District, each family was sent the free and reduced lunch application over the summer.

“We did know this change was going to affect families, and we wanted to make sure they had ease of application with that,” Dell Rapids School District Superintendent Summer Schultz said. “We had it on our radar all last year. We knew that this was a timely program that really benefited our families last year, and we knew it was probably going to come to an end, so we started communicating with them again this summer.”

Both superintendents say that regardless of the circumstance, students are going to get fed.

“We will never not have a student get a reimbursable meal. We have great partnerships with our families and try to work with them if things are tough,” Schultz said.

“We’re going to do whatever we can to work with the families who haven’t qualified for free meals but are having trouble if they have trouble paying their lunch bills. We’re going to try and work with them. Kids need to be fed or they’re not going to learn,” Sittig said.

To find out if you’re eligible or need an application for free and reduced school lunches, contact your child’s school.