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Shirley Lanham Elementary School students at Naval Air Facility Atsugi won’t face the fear of losing lunch money to a bully or be able to spend their $2 on trading cards anymore.

On Tuesday, the Navy Exchange-run school lunch program changed to a lunch ticket system, forgoing cash payments forever.

Lunch tickets aren’t new — the school has accepted them for about eight years, said NEX food services manager Steven Hollinger. But in the past, parents had the choice of money or a ticket.

The tickets are prepurchased at the exchange. They became a necessity this year, Hollinger said, after school officials adjusted the lunch schedule to have two classes in the lunchroom at a time instead of one. The additional classes backed up the lunch line during the youngsters’ precious 20-minute lunch periods.

Counting cash proved too time consuming, Hollinger said.

“They’d bring a bag of nickels or a bag of dimes and drop them on the counter,” Hollinger said. “Just getting through that line was taking 10 minutes.”

The lunch tickets bear the child’s name, grade and homeroom teacher’s name so they can be returned if lost. They also have serial numbers in case the child doesn’t write in the information.

The program is better for parents, Hollinger said, since it ensures their kids will get a meal. Giving them money “doesn’t guarantee that kids are going to buy a meal with it,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits of having lunch tickets.”

Most other Department of Defense Dependents Schools already have a non-cash system in place.

Army and Air Force base DODDS students use a system called Fastlane, an account into which parents add money periodically. The students access the account with a personal identification number, said Master Sgt. Donovan Potter, spokesman for the Army Air Force Exchange Service on Okinawa.

That system, run by AAFES, is in place at all Army and Air Force schools worldwide, he said. It’s also in place in schools on Okinawa since AAFES operates the lunch program for all schools on the island, Potter said.

Elsewhere in Japan, the system varies. Many schools still accept cash, including elementary schools at Sasebo Naval Base, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Byrd Elementary School at the Negishi Housing Area, part of Yokosuka Naval Base.

But the Sullivans School at Yokosuka’s main base this year also switched to lunch tickets, according to school officials.

Hollinger said if a student forgets his ticket or if a parent forgets to buy one, the child will still eat. Those kids receive a special meal and go home with a note saying they didn’t have a ticket.

Tickets also are available for the federal reduced and free lunch programs.

The program has worked well this week, Hollinger said. About four students arrived with cash the first day it was in effect, but all have had tickets since then, he said. And best of all — the lines are running much more smoothly.


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