If you’re not convinced that hunger is a real problem for your students, visit a school cafeteria on the morning after a long weekend, suggests Lynn Harvey, president of the School Nutrition Association.
At schools serving high-poverty communities, in particular, “you will see the face of true hunger. Having gone all weekend with little food … the kids are cramming into the cafeteria for breakfast.”
That may sound like hyperbole. There are no wild mobs rushing to the food counter, and you won’t see the swollen bellies and skeletal frames of children starving to death.
But child hunger in America is real. More than half of all children educated in public schools live in poverty, and as many as 13 million households with children are “food insecure,” where food is limited or of dubious nutritional value.
Somewhere out there, a bag of potato chips or a bowl of cereal may be only meal of the day for a child.
Understanding this stark reality is why so many school boards are taking deliberate steps to expand their school district’s role in meeting the nutritional needs of students. Many traditional school lunch programs, for example, have long since expanded to include breakfast, after-school snacks, and even dinner.
But school boards are doing so much more. Across the nation, they are partnering with local agencies, community groups, and food banks to bring meals to recreation centers, housing developments, YMCAs, and anywhere else children may be hungry after school, on weekends, or over the spring, summer, and winter breaks.
“Schools are becoming the nutrition hub of their communities,” says Harvey, who also serves as chief of school nutrition services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. “This is especially true in high-poverty communities, which are reliant on schools … to ensure students have access to food.”