By Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - Nearly 30 Alabama school systems are participating in a program to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all their students.

The Gadsden Times ( ) reported the program is meant to eliminate so-called “food deserts” where children aren’t getting enough to eat.

“We have a lot of food deserts in the state of Alabama,” she June Barrett, coordinator of Alabama’s Child Nutrition Program.

Barrett said about 28 school systems are participating in the program currently and more can join later.

The federal program is available to districts or schools have at least 40 percent of students on free lunches. Entire districts or individual schools can participate.

Barrett said the “stigma” of qualifying for a free or reduced-price lunch is erased once a school joins since there would be no payment regardless of the parents’ income.

“That’s a big benefit,” she said. Some parents struggle to pay for meals even at reduced prices of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, she said.

The program is part of the Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which allows school districts or schools that have 40 percent of students who currently are eligible for free lunches to offer free lunches to all students.

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