Failing To Feed Our Future
If you are like me, you get pretty cranky when you are hungry.
I get even crankier when I think about the one in five kids in Washington struggling with hunger.
Hungry kids struggle to pay attention, learn, and thrive. Childhood hunger in the US is a result of poverty and the high cost of living (food, housing, and childcare). While there is plenty of food – even cheap food – low income families often have to choose between putting food on the table and keeping the lights on, or a roof over head.
Federally funded child nutrition programs are designed to help feed children where they live, learn, and play – but it only works if kids have access the programs. Access, stigma, and awareness are big barriers to participation in these programs– especially in school breakfast. WA ranks 43rd in the nation in feeding breakfast to low income kids. This year we had a chance to fix this and help 25,000 additional students access school breakfast – we failed – and that makes me cranky and fiercely committed to change.
In 2015 a broad coalition of more than 50 organizations including parents, teachers, administrators, unions, nutritionists, and anti-hunger leaders came together to support Breakfast After the Bell. This bill would have required high-needs schools to offer breakfast after the start of the school day.
Research shows that making this switch eliminates many of the barriers to the school breakfast program. It also shows that high participation in school breakfast has positive academic and health outcomes. At a cost of less than $3 million to the state and an opportunity to leverage $23 million in federal funds – this should have been an easy win for kids, schools, and the state. Unfortunately politics prevailed and hungry kids lost.
Catalyst to Move Forward
The good news is that there is wide support for improving access to school meals. I hope that the legislative loss can be a catalyst for local action. For the time being we need to turn our attention away from Olympia to local school districts – helping them adopt and implement strategies that can help more children access healthy school meals. Here are 3 timely opportunities for change.
- Schools can choose to offer Breakfast After The Bell. Our partners at Action for Healthy Kidshave technical assistance, tools, and resources to helps school leaders and Nutrition Departments make the switch.
- Schools in King County can join forces with United Way of King County and launch a school Nutrition Hub to make your school healthy and hunger free. We’ll provide AmeriCorps members, marketing materials, technical assistance and funds to support these efforts. Contact Lmcgowan@uwkc.orgto learn more.
- Districts can adopt The Community Eligibility Provision(CEP). This innovative program allows schools provide to provide school lunch and school breakfast to all students free of charge. It reduces administrate burdens for and barriers to participation. Thirty-two districts in Washington State are participating in CEP for SY 2014-15 even more are eligible. These schools are eligible for next school year – the time to act is now. School leaders need to hear from you that CEP is a win-win for kids and for schools.
Need some inspiration? Baltimore is providing school meals for all kids. We can too.