Universal Free Meals Pilot Fights Childhood Hunger

October 19, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Fewer children are going hungry in West Virginia because of increased participation in the West Virginia Department of Education’s Universal Free Meals pilot project.

Schools in Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Gilmer, Lincoln, Mason, McDowell and Mingo counties are piloting the program that provides free meals to all students regardless of income. Schools participating in the program are offering breakfast or lunch or both. At some schools, participation has increased as much as 55 percent.

“Research consistently shows that children who eat a well-balanced breakfast and lunch perform better on standardized tests, have higher math scores and lower rates of absenteeism and tardiness,” said state Superintendent Jorea Marple. “This pilot is supporting child nutrition programs and increasing breakfast and lunch participation while eliminating any barriers hindering a child’s ability to participate.”

Schools and counties that volunteered to participate in the one-year pilot have a high percentage of children who qualify for free or reduce price meals. By increasing participation, schools can recover much of the cost associated with the program through federal subsidies.

To participate, volunteers agreed to not only increase their breakfast and lunch participation but also eliminate processed foods and increase school-made meals, offer more choices to students and offer breakfast after first period, in the classroom or grab and go options.

In Raleigh County, Crab Orchard Elementary School has increased breakfast participation 55 percent from 110 meals a day to 170 with Grab ‘n’ Go offerings. Yogurt, fruit, milk and other portable foods are loaded each morning into red wagons and delivered to classrooms so that children who missed breakfast can eat at their desks.

In Fayette County, nearly 90 percent of the 720 students at New River Elementary School ate breakfast at school in September while at Danese Elementary 94 percent of 111 students ate school lunch, 20 percent more than in August when school started. Meadow Bridge High School has increased breakfast participation from about 15 percent in August to nearly 45 percent of 232 students in September. Other Fayette County schools have equally strong participation.

“Many schools have shown a lot of improvement since August,” said Fayette County Child Nutrition Director David Seay. “Everyone is doing great. With lunch participation, all schools are about 65 percent.”

New River Elementary is leading the county with breakfast participation in large part because of the breakfast in the classroom offerings.

“Many West Virginia children rely on school meals for their primary nutrition source,” said state Superintendent Marple. “In a state with a 60 percent poverty rate, if we can increase school meal participation, we can make progress in childhood hunger. Promoting good nutrition in schools is not only good for our students it is good for the community.”

For more information, contact the Office of Child Nutrition at (304) 558-2709, or the Office of Communications at (304) 558-2699.

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