Childhood hunger is a persistent, yet solvable, crisis. Schools are uniquely positioned to play a vital role in addressing food insecurity among their students. But schools cannot do this work alone. Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced he is supporting funding that ensures no child in our state is turned away from a school lunch.
Research from Hunger-Free Minnesota’s coalition partners shows that school breakfast is also a wise investment, especially for young, developing schoolchildren. Hungry students cannot be expected to learn or even concentrate for a long school day without nutrition. Household income should not be the determining factor in academic success.
Two recent research studies by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry and the National Dairy Council also demonstrate that children who start their day with a nutritious school breakfast have better attendance records, higher math test scores and improved graduation rates. Research funded by Hunger-Free Minnesota and conducted by Children’s HealthWatch shows that when young children experience food insecurity, they are at increased risk of poor health and developmental delays. Statewide usage of the federally funded School Breakfast Program, however, remains at only 45 percent.
What if we applied business strategies and analysis and engaged corporate, community, nonprofit and government leaders to solve a seemingly intractable problem: food insecurity? Could we make a meaningful impact? More importantly, could we make it sustainable? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Partnering with schools is one of the best possible ways to make significant inroads against childhood hunger, a goal that we must share as a community. Through the support of our partners, General Mills Foundation and the Cargill Foundation, Hunger-Free Minnesota’s School Breakfast Challenge is able to offer a financial incentive for schools to offer or expand their school breakfast programs.
We are working with the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota to support school principals, teachers, school nutrition directors and superintendents, who have been some of the biggest champions of this program because they know first-hand that hungry kids are not positioned to realize their full potential.
We have to start by investing in school meal programs that work for our schools, teachers, parents and, of course, students. The School Breakfast Challenge provides participating schools with $2,500 in unrestricted funds to cover the cost of implementation. Schools will also receive a $0.25 per meal incentive for every meal served to free- and reduced-price eligible children over the prior school year up to 25,000 meals.
In addition to financial support, the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota will work with selected schools to connect them with such resources as information on successful models, promotional materials and lessons learned, and will help them identify other potential funding opportunities. This work will include identifying key barriers to participation, such as time constraints, transportation issues and lack of awareness.
Minneapolis Public Schools and some St. Paul Public Schools have found success with universal “grab ’n’ go” breakfast programs, meaning they are open to all children and no one is turned away because of an inability to pay.
Our School Breakfast Initiative supports school meal programs statewide and the many advocates for children who work in these schools to ensure that more students are able to start their school day with a nutritious meal, setting them up for academic success.
Schools interested in applying to participate in the School Breakfast Challenge should visit www.schoolbreakfastinitiative.org.
Not only can investing in access to and quality of nutrition programs reduce societal health care and education costs for Minnesota, but by recognizing hunger as an urgent public health issue, we can act to protect the health and well-being of the state’s youngest and most vulnerable children — and ensure a brighter future for all.
Ellie Lucas is chief campaign officer for Hunger-Free Minnesota.
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