Free and Reduced Information

  • It is the goal of Gaston County School Nutrition to make available to every student an attractive, nutritious, and pleasing meal at the lowest possible cost. For families with limited financial resources, free or reduced price meals are provided for eligible students. To qualify for free or reduced price meals, an application must be completed and returned to the school or to the school nutrition office at 500 Reid Street, Lowell. Applications are available online at and at all schools in Gaston County. Only one application per household is needed. On the application you must include all students that attend Gaston County Schools, as well as all other members of the household. If there is a change in your household size or income, you can apply, or re-apply, for benefits at any time during the school year. The information provided on each application is confidential. Gaston County Schools will make reasonable efforts to maintain the anonymity of students participating in the free or reduced price meal program. Children who receive free or reduced price meal benefits are treated the same as children who pay full price for their meals. In the operation of child feeding programs, no child will be discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex, age or handicap.  
    Gaston County Schools also uses the Direct Certification process. Through Direct Certification, Gaston County Schools will automatically qualify children from families that receive benefits from the Department of Social Services for TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) or the Food and Nutrition Services (Food Stamp) Program. Students who qualify for free meals through direct certification do not have to complete a Free and Reduced Meals application. Gaston County School Nutrition will match student files with Department of Social Services files to determine which students will be directly certified. Gaston County School Nutrition will send letters, prior to the beginning of the current school year, to each student receiving direct certification. The parent/guardian may deny benefits if they choose. Parents will still need to complete a Free & Reduced Price Meal Application for students that do not receive benefits from the Department of Social Services. 

    Foster children are categorically eligible for free meal benefits, and should be included on the household application. (Not a separate application)

    Students designated as homeless by Gaston County Schools’ homeless liaison are categorically eligible for free meals. No application is required, but documentation must be received from the homeless liaison before benefits begin.

    If any member of the household receives Food and Nutrition Services – Food Services & Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly known as food stamps), Work First Cash Assistance (Formerly TANF), or FDPIR, provide the name and case number on the application for the person who receives the benefits. All students listed on that application are categorically eligible for free meals.

    If a student receives Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly known as food stamps), Work First Cash Assistance (Formerly TANF), benefits and is notified that he/she has been approved for free meal benefits by way of Direct Certification, and application is not required for that student. If there are other children that have not been identified as being directly certified, but who live in the same household, please contact the Free and School Year 2022–2023.
    Beginning in 2023-2024, Gaston County Schools will offer universal free breakfast and lunch for all students attending 40 qualifying schools. These schools qualify for this program as a part of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the USDA’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Students attending CEP schools should not complete a 2022-2023 free and reduced meal application. However, if a household has students attending CEP schools, and other students attending schools that do not qualify for CEP, then a Free and Reduced Meal Application is required in order to receive free or reduced price meals for students at non-qualifying schools. Please be sure to list all household members, including students attending CEP schools, on these applications.

    A link to the list of CEP schools is provided here:

    For questions or assistance in completing a Free and Reduced Price Meal Application contact: Tina Franks, Free and Reduced  Meal Specialist, 704-836-9110 Extension 1, or toll free at 855-657-1020, Extension 1.
    “USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider, Employer and Lender”