THOMASVILLE, N.C. – Students in Thomasville City Schools now have access to government provided breakfast, lunch and dinner.

District nutrition director Brenda Watford told WGHP Thomasville schools teamed with the Thomasville Housing Authority and Thomasville Church Homes to offer free dinner for the first time this week, adding free breakfast and lunch served at schools.

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Watford said 98 percent of the district’s students qualify for free lunch and breakfast through federal programs, and a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is covering the cost for dinner, which is expected to draw about 500 students per day.

“Students would come in and say they haven’t eaten since lunch the day before and they would be hungry asking could we give them something before breakfast,” Watford said. “I have a passion to feed these kids and so do my folks with child nutrition and we’re just excited we can do this.”

On Wednesday, students streamed in to fill up on hamburgers, veggies, milk and Rice Krispies Treats. The “free” food is available to “any student who needs it,” WFMY reports.

“I’ve never been down this road before,” said parent Rachel Heller, who brought her sons, 5 and 4 years old, to the free dinner at the Church Homes Housing Authority. “I’m grateful … during the week, I don’t have to worry about dinner.”

“We came down here, they have dinner and do their homework and it will help financially,” she said.

The dinners, served daily from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., are also served at other area schools in Guilford County and elsewhere, officials said.

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“When kids come in and they are properly fed and they have the proper nutrition, their minds are ready to learn, they are ready to receive information,” Thomasville Middle School assistant principal Diana Roberts said.

The free meals come amid criticism of waste and fraud against the USDA’s many school food service programs and recent calls by the House Freedom Caucus to overhaul the National School Lunch Program, EAGnews reports.

McClatchy reported in January:

The Office of Federal Budget and Management named the school lunch program one of its “high-error programs” in 2015. The White House-controlled agency estimates the lunch program makes nearly $2 billion annually in “improper payments,” meaning the government gives money to people who don’t need it or recipients are using federal funds improperly.

The National School Lunch Program’s estimated 15.7 percent improper payment rate is the second highest among the 10 biggest “high-error” federal programs, trailing only the Income Earned Tax Credit’s 23.8 percent rate.

In contrast, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, has an estimated 3.7 percent improper payment rate.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a vocal critic of the federal school food programs who was among those vetted by Trump to head the USDA, told the news site he believes the government could save billions of dollars by limiting free food giveaways to students who truly need it.

“The free and reduced lunch program needs an overhaul,” Miller said. “It’s absolutely crazy to give free and reduced lunches to 60 percent of the people that get it. We’re just giving them away, and I’ve got a plan to address that. We can probably save several billion dollars, and I discussed that with the transition team.”