Thousands of the District's poorest children may not receive lunch or breakfast for a month this summer because the D.C. school system will not keep all school buildings open during that time, according to the head of the organization coordinating the city's summer feeding program.
Lynn Brantley, president of the Capital Area Food Bank, sent a hand-delivered letter yesterday to D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman pleading with her to reconsider the "tragic and unexplained" decision to keep some D.C. schools closed next week before summer school starts and again for three weeks in August after summer school ends.
The schools are needed as sites to feed students up to age 18, many of whom would regularly receive well-balanced free or reduced-price meals during the school year, she said.
"How can we walk away from our kids like this?" Brantley said in an interview. "This is a basic need for our children. It's caused me many a sleepless night. I don't know what we're going to do."
D.C. school spokeswoman Denise Tann said that she had not seen Brantley's letter but that school officials are "pretty confident" the program will be successful because they are opening more buildings next week than they did last year during the week before summer school -- 65 compared with 15. And another school official said 144 other city sites will be open that week for feeding children.
Tann said some schools must be closed for three weeks after summer school ends so they can be cleaned before classes start in the fall. The school system has not yet told the food bank how many schools will be closed to the summer feeding program during those three weeks.
About 45,000 children are at risk of going hungry without school meals, but the summer programs reached only about half that many last year, according to food bank officials. The food bank, which is coordinating the U.S. Department of Agriculture program for the District, was counting on 130 D.C. school buildings starting Monday, hoping to maximize the number of at-risk children served.
Brantley's letter to Ackerman said the school system's decision will leave "thousands of children without access to food," and she said school officials backed out of a promise made in February to open all schools for summer feeding from June 21 to Aug. 27.
Along with school sites, 21 locations are being sponsored by the D.C. Central Kitchen, and 65 to 80 sites are being coordinated by the city's Friendship Public Charter School, working with the city's Recreation Department.
Robert Egger, of the D.C. Central Kitchen, said the District's summer food bank program for children had the highest increase in participation in the country last year, feeding 23,000 children compared with 15,000 the summer before.
"I think everyone's doing a great job," said Egger, whose organization is working with Sodexho Marriott Services to feed 2,100 children starting Monday. That day, they plan to serve children pita pockets with shredded lettuce and tuna salad, applesauce and milk.
Federal regulations require the lunches to include a minimum of two ounces of protein; two servings of vegetables and/or fruit; two servings of bread, rice or pasta; and eight ounces of milk, according to Susan Callahan, kitchen director at D.C. Central Kitchen.
But some planners haven't been able to focus yet on the content of the meals, Brantley said.
"We haven't had a chance to discuss menus," she said. "The issue is getting the schools open."
To find locations and times for food service, call the Capital Area Food Bank hot line at 202-639-9770.