PUBLIC HEALTH

Student Meal Program To Expand to 3 a Day

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 18, 2006

As many as 20,000 District children will soon be eating three government-subsidized meals a day, beginning with breakfast and lunch at school and ending with dinner at after-school programs, according to a comprehensive plan to end child hunger in the city over the next decade.

D.C. officials and food providers estimate that 35,000 city children are living on the edge of hunger. By using $14 million available from federal programs, some schoolchildren can be fed a complete dinner instead of just a light snack, the officials said.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, civic and business leaders and members of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in the Nation's Capital will release a 10-part plan that expands the city's feeding program to three meals a day. The partnership, led by the nonprofit groups D.C. Hunger Solutions, the Food Research and Action Center and Share Our Strength, is scheduled to announce its recommendations at 11 a.m. today at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest Washington.

The goal of the partnership is to end child hunger in the District in 10 years and to use the comprehensive plan as a model for other cities.

"We have an opportunity to make history here in our great city," said Kimberly Perry, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. "It's high-impact change that really matters and affects children's and families' lives in a very positive way."

More than 20,000 children participate in after-school programs and are fed a light snack by child-care providers. Earlier this year, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation began providing full dinners, in addition to snacks, to about 5,000 students at 56 sites it manages at schools and city recreation centers, Perry said.

D.C. schoolchildren are eligible for free breakfast regardless of family income, and steps have been taken to simplify the application for working parents who qualify for the lunch and dinner programs.

The other plans to alleviate hunger for children include increasing the number of neighborhood supermarkets with fresh produce, helping families manage food stamps and expanding the summer meal program.

Several federal programs are available to ensure children get nutritious meals, the advocates said. But not everyone is taking advantage of them or the funds available to pay for them. There is $14 million available in federal funding to feed children, and last year the District failed to collect even half of that.

Pat Nicklin, managing director of Share Our Strength, cited several reasons the federal dollars are not being used. Many food providers and parents may not know how to apply for the federal reimbursements, she said. Instead, the providers use their own funds to pay for snacks. She said schools and nonprofit organizations must be educated about the use of federal funds.

It was a major step last year for the D.C. school system to open its free breakfast program to all students, Nicklin said.

"That gives us great confidence and pride that the District has taken significant action to end child hunger, and we should build on it with the 10-part program that we have laid out in this plan," Nicklin said.


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