W.Va. Kicks Off Pilot Program Providing Free Meals To All

January 05, 2007

MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. _ The West Virginia Department of Education and Marshall University’s Center for Rural Health launched a pilot program Friday that provides free breakfast and lunch to every student at Mount Hope Elementary regardless of family income.  

The pilot program called Everyone at the Table is Served (EATS) is being funded with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a New Jersey-based health advocacy group. The project is designed to make sure every child gets at least two nutritionally rich meals every day. Studies show that when students eat well, they focus better, their behavior improves and they miss less school.  

“Countless research shows children with poor nutrition score lower on vocabulary, reading, math and general knowledge tests,” said State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “I’m proud of West Virginia for recognizing the important role proper nutrition plays in education.”  

The School Physical Activity Nutrition survey conducted last spring at Mount Hope Elementary found that 86 percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced meals. About 62 percent of students usually eat lunch, but many students qualifying for reduced rates still cannot afford to eat meals at school leading to nearly 50 percent of students reported not eating three meals a day.  

Marshall, which received the grant to pilot a childhood obesity prevention project, chose to focus on Mount Hope because the elementary school has a high rate of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  

“Mount Hope has no grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables making it difficult for families to send nutritious lunches to school,” said Sally Hurst, Marshall’s rural outreach coordinator. “This project will give us a chance to collect data to hopefully influence policy that supports families raising healthier, more successful children.”  

West Virginia was the first state in the nation to require all public schools to offer breakfast. The progressive step has helped West Virginia to be recognized as the top state serving breakfast to students from low income families.  

“Providing free meals in schools is one of the most cost-effective and fastest ways to improve children’s learning and health,” said Rick Goff, executive director for the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Nutrition. “This project is one more way we can increase our children’s chances for academic success.”  

Contact Rick Goff in the Office of School Nutrition at (304) 558- 2708 for more information.

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