Hattiesburg, Petal schools offer free meals

By The Associated Press

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The Petal School District and the Hattiesburg Public School District are offering their summer meal program at no cost to children 18 years or younger.

But for the first time this year, Petal School District is also offering free dinner to children.

Alice Garner, nutrition manager at Petal Middle School, tells The Hattiesburg American (http://hatne.ws/KZW1eG ) it’s important for kids to be able to eat the same nutritious meals they get during the school year during the summer.

Danny Dillistone, the district’s child nutrition director, says so far, the dinner program has proved popular, with service at more than 100 people on a recent night.

The meals are paid for through federal funding.

“The way the federal program works is you can only have two meal types at any one site,” said Dillistone. “If we could offer all three (at one site), we would be doing three.”

Dillistone said the district has been participating in the summer feeding program for as long as he can remember, but he decided this summer to offer dinner for the first time.

“I felt there was a need in the community,” he said. “Last year, when I would be watching the families come in at lunchtime, I could tell they were hurting.”

Dillistone said facts and figures back up what he’s seen with his own eyes.

“Our free and reduced (lunch) percentage has gone up about 2 percent a year,” he said. “Where Petal used to be in the 40s about 10 years ago, we’re up to about 58 percent today.

“It is truly a sign of the times.”

Dillistone said he is happy to serve the parents, too, for a small fee.

“The availability is for all children 18 and under at no cost to the child. And above 18 is $3 a plate for lunch or supper and $1.75 for breakfast,” he said.