Hillsborough County’s Pandemic Related Free School Lunch Program is Dissolved


To start their day off right, students receive breakfast from the school cafeteria. Though school lunches are no longer free if students have not applied for it, breakfast has stayed free of charge the entire year. Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Esposito.

Beginning in the year 2020, Hillsborough County Public Schools made the temporary decision to provide free lunch for all K-12 students. This decision was originally made due to the pandemic being at its peak to help both students and families during a time of need. This opportunity was not only available in the 2020-2021 school year, but the 2021-2022 school year as well, according to HCPS Student Nutrition Services.  

During these two school years, many students got used to having free and easy access to lunch. However, at the start of the new school year, this opportunity ended. For the majority who became accustomed to it, this shift can be seen as major with lunch now ranging from $2.75-$3.25 

Noemi Madrano, assistant manager and production coordinator of Steinbrenner’s food service pitched in about ways this has impacted students. 

“There’s probably a lot less kids eating now because of it… our numbers aren’t as high as last year,” voiced Madrano.  

With the numbers of students purchasing lunch decreasing, it is safe to assume that said students could be struggling to stay focused without having this source of brain power. 

This change has not only impacted students, but teachers as well who feel strongly about the decision. Kathleen Walsh, longtime teacher at Steinbrenner High School, is only one example of said teachers. 

“I think that if we want students to be engaged, the first step of this and them being able to complete what we are asking them to do in our classes is to make sure their basic needs are met.

— Katie Walsh

Despite the majority of students who no longer have access to this free program, select families have the opportunity to apply and receive reduced or free lunch. Families are chosen based off income, along with other considerations. However, all Hillsborough County Public School students have the ability to receive free breakfast regardless of status. 

“We like to encourage everyone to come have breakfast…  it starts your day off right, it helps you concentrate… and its beneficiary for you guys as well as us,” added Madrano.  

Although this change was a surprise for many, Hillsborough County has been extremely helpful in providing alternatives such as free breakfast for families who cannot afford new lunch prices.