WEST CARROLLTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Now that the USDA free school lunch program has ended, there are concerns about the cost of food as students return to the classroom. Organizations in the Miami Valley are gearing up to provide more meals to kids.

For the first time since the 2019-2020 school year, students will have to pay for their school lunches.

So far, the West Carrollton City Schools District has only received back 5% of their free or reduced lunch applications. Typically 60% of the district’s student body receives free or reduced lunch.

“From the previous times that we’ve done it, we should have a higher response than we’ve had this year,” Janine Corbett, public relations for West Carrollton City Schools, said.

Corbett said the free lunch program through the pandemic has been very beneficial to families.

“That meant a lot to families who were suffering through COVID, and some people had lost jobs, were losing income, so to be able to make sure those students got a healthy lunch every day, that was very important to us,” Corbett said.

Organizations that provide weekend food assistance said they’re preparing for a greater need than normal this year.

Feed the Creek provides meals to students in Beavercreek City Schools. Each week, kids take home a backpack full of food for the weekend.

“We are anticipating it and trying to be a step ahead as far as making sure that we have the extra food and that we have the extra funding that we need to support these families,” Feed the Creek founder Sharon Fulcher said.

Typically Feed the Creek helps around 300 students a week during the school year. Fulcher said her organization is preparing for that to increase.

“We’re planning on it being closer to 400 students, but time will tell,” Fulcher said.

The Foodbank reached 13,000 kids in July through their food distribution services. Development and Marketing Manager Lauren Tappel said it’s usually higher during the summer months with kids home from school.

Tappel said having the free lunch program end could add additional pressure on parents.

“That lunch program is a really big support for those families, and so if that were to no longer be there, that would be additional funds that need to be put into the grocery budget to provide those lunches, which would really impact that family’s budget,” Tappel said.

On top of an increased need, inflation and supply chain issues are making it challenging for these organizations to provide meals. It costs Feed the Creek $33 a month to feed one student.

“Canned chicken, which is one of the proteins we send home, has skyrocketed so high that it doesn’t even make sense to go get,” Fulcher said.

With the first day of school approaching, Corbett said the district is concerned that the return rate on the form is low because the district doesn’t want to see any child go without lunch.

“We do want parents, please fill out a free and reduced lunch application if you feel your child qualifies for that,” Corbett said.