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Fridley Public Schools
Walz, Flanagan, Jett and Long serve breakfast.

On Friday, March 8, Fridley Middle School students made their way to the cafeteria thinking they were picking up a grab-and-go breakfast like it was any other morning. Instead, Governor Tim Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Education Commissioner Willie Jett and USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long were there to serve scratch-made muffins, pancakes, fruit cups and apple slices.

The state and federal officials were there in recognition of National School Breakfast Week, taking the opportunity to celebrate the Free School Meals for Kids Program, school nutrition staff, and the impact access to free breakfast has on students.
After breakfast was served to the starstruck students, Superintendent Brenda Lewis opened a press conference talking about the impact of the Free School Meals bill on the district since Governor Walz signed it into law on March 17, 2023.

“In Fridley, it’s a game changer,” Lewis said. “Seventy-two percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. If you look at where our community was 10 years ago, that figure was less than 50%. This is a huge difference that you are making.”

The Free School Meals program is a state-funded program that provides reimbursement to schools for meals served to students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, so all students receive meals at no cost.

Governor Walz emphasized the importance of the program for students and their families in Fridley and across the state.

“We want to lead in this space, making sure that a nutritious start to the day and a lunch is something every family can access,” Walz said. “Schools served nearly 4.3 million more breakfasts this fall thanks to universal meals. That’s a 37% increase in students starting the day with a full belly, ready to learn.”

A group photo.

Lieutenant Governor Flanagan spoke about her experience as a student who would have benefitted from the legislation her office helped pass.

“As a kid who relied on free and reduced-price lunch at school, I know firsthand how life changing this can be for families,” Flanagan acknowledged. “This is hands down the best investment that we can make as a state. I'm so proud to live and lead in a state that is committed not only to making life more affordable and better for everyone, but a state that really sees the importance of feeding kids.”

USDA Administrator Long praised Renee Arbogast, the district’s director of nutritional services, and the entire nutrition team for serving students.

“A huge thank you to Renee and her staff for the amazing work you do every single day serving these kids in the cafeteria and classroom,” she said.

Jessica Rifley, a sixth grade math teacher at FMS, provided her perspective as a Fridley educator seeing her students benefit from the Free School Meals program.

“This program has made a tremendous difference,” Rifley explained. “Not only are my students able to come to class and learn, but they're able to access higher thinking and not have to worry about where their next meal will come from. They can focus on being a child and on learning – and that is really what we're all here to do.”