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Keep Kids Learning, Keep Kids Fed

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under Opinions

Originally published in Washington Apple Press, Fall 2016 Issue
By Natalie Kahn, School’s Out Washington Americorps Member

Keep Kids Learning, Keep Kids Fed: An interview with Nutrition Services Director Lisa Johnson

One out of every five children faces hunger every day in the United States. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meets many school day meal needs through free and reduced price lunches, but according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) in partnership with No Kid Hungry, 25% of low-income parents worry that their child is not getting enough to eat outside of school[1]. Across Washington State there is a growing need for meals and snacks outside of the school day.  School districts statewide are rising to meet this need in partnership with community based organizations and non-profits.

Lisa Johnson, the Nutrition Services Director for the Highline School District in South King County is one example of a leader who has significantly increased access to afterschool and summer meals in her district. Highline’s rate of over 50% of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals through the NSLP makes the district eligible to provide free afterschool and summer meals through the USDA. Lisa notes that not only does serving afterschool and summer meals benefit the child, but also provides a “nice option for families because the students are already at the school – it takes the burden off of some families.” Children and youth spend only 20% of their waking hours in school, and providing access to meals during that remaining 80% of time is a critical component in supporting children’s health and overall well-being[2].

Highline serves hot afterschool meals four days a week and is reimbursed by the USDA at a fixed rate of $3.16 per supper. Johnson says this is only one model, and she continues to look into others – some of which can even mean revenue for the school that can then be reinvested to grow meals services for students. In order to access these funds, Lisa went through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a statewide nutrition program under the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Lisa has done a great deal to increase access to afterschool meals in her district and continues to spread the word about the resources available. She has worked with United Way of King County to convert multiple afterschool snack programs into full meal programs. She explains that each school or district should look at its own needs and capacity. One tip Lisa offered was that once afterschool meals are approved for one program at your site, look to expand initially by getting approval for other programs operating in the same building, including athletics and afterschool programs offered by the school or a community partner.

Highline afterschool meals programs have had success, but Lisa is still looking for ways to improve. She has considered switching from serving hot meals to something called a super-snack, which is a pre-packaged transportable meal. Hot meals require staff and space that can be difficult to obtain. Identifying local non-profits, library systems, faith-based and community-based organizations is one great way to find like-minded partners who can provide this space or other resources in-kind. Leveraging resources to benefit the broader community can stretch your budget and your service area.

For those new to providing afterschool meals or snacks, Lisa’s advice is to start small and to make sure your district meets all of the eligibility requirements.  Reaching out to staff at OSPI to check on your eligibility is a great place to start. While the requirements can be intimidating at first glance, the variety of options in the meal programs allow for flexibility to make them work for your program and/or community.  Connecting to other organizations can also be a way to navigate any roadblocks.

Once your school community has established an afterschool and summer meal program, help us spread the word! Creating awareness and examples of best practices when it comes to increasing access to afterschool and summer meals is key to expanding the meal programs to more communities across the state. Pairing meals with existing afterschool or summer programming can be a big draw for children and families. The more interest and participation in these meal programs the better, as more children go to bed with full stomachs and wake up ready to learn.

Interested in learning more? Please visit www.k12.wa.us/ChildNutrition or contact School’s Out Washington for more information at nkahn@schoolsoutwashington.org

[1] https://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/events/2016/august/9/start-school-year-right-innovative-approaches-afterschool-meals

[2] http://www.schoolsoutwashington.org

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