PARKERSBURG - Applications for free- and reduced-price meal programs in Wood County Schools jumped by 6 percent this school year, the biggest jump in more than 10 years.
Sue Woodward, spokeswoman for the district, said the county saw a 3 percent increase in applications within the first two months of school, but the number has since doubled as more parents scramble to take advantage of the program.
About 47 percent of Wood County Schools' more than 13,000 students are now enrolled in free- and reduced-price meal programs.
Woodward said recent changes in the district's closed campus policy also may be a factor.
"In the high schools, especially, we've seen an increase since the closed campus was put into place," she said. "This is the first year for Parkersburg South High School to have closed campus, and we've seen an increase there."
Woodward said other programs also have been tied into the application process for the meal program, which has increased the number applications.
Also, families receiving food stamps automatically had children enrolled in the meal program.
"Even if they choose not to take advantage of the program, they are enrolled," she said.
Statewide, 52.7 percent of children enrolled in school received free or low-cost lunches in 2007.
Gary Hendricks, director of nutrition for Kanawha County schools, says more than 51 percent of children are already getting lunches through the program. In the previous school year, that mark wasn't reached until April.
Officials from the Northern to the Eastern panhandles report similar increases.
Nancy Karavolos, director of nutrition for Hancock County schools, says the bad economy means more children are in need.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.