Written by: Craig Nash, Child Hunger Outreach Specialist, Texas Hunger Initiative – Waco Regional Office
By the time buses arrive at La Vega Elementary School to deliver their precious cargo to teachers and administrators for the day, Melissa McGough and her Child Nutrition Team have been busy for almost two hours preparing to meet the daily nutrition needs of students. Tomatoes are being cut and cabbage washed. Lunch sandwiches are being assembled and even meals that will be eaten after the school day ends are in the early stages of being pieced together. But when students first walk through the doors, there is one thing on their mind: breakfast!
On this particular day, the menu of choices consists of kolaches (a Central Texas favorite) cinnamon rolls, whole grain cereal, fresh fruit, and of course, milk. The students file through the line effortlessly. By this point in the school year they are acclimated to the rhythm: pick one fruit selection and two other items to complete their meal; tell their student ID number to the lady at the register; grab a package of silverware and napkins before walking to their table with their breakfast tray in hand; eat breakfast with their friends before standing in line for the trash can; dispose of their tray and head off to class, but not before the obligatory hug from Julia, the custodian managing the line.
Within a window of just a few minutes, each of these children have practiced several skills necessary to thrive into adulthood, from making healthy choices and remembering personal information to enjoying conversation with other people over a meal and receiving love from someone who cares about them. They probably aren’t aware of any of this just yet, but all the things happening in these moments are adding up to help them become the best possible version of themselves. What they do know, however, is that they are starting their day off with a stomach full of good things that help fuel their bodies and minds through morning classes.
Over a quarter of all Texas children are food-insecure, which simply means that their families face barriers in accessing three healthy meals a day. To overcome these challenges, parents often have to make choices—skip a meal or reduce the amount of nutrition at each meal? In a given week these tough decisions may seem miniscule, nothing more than what many people have to do to get by. But over the course of weeks and months they can have many adverse affects. Thankfully, there are armies of people and organizations dedicated to fighting hunger among our most vulnerable young ones. On the front lines of this battle are dedicated school nutrition workers like Melissa McGough and her team at La Vega ISD.
March 7-11, 2016 is National School Breakfast Week. This is an opportunity for all who care about ending child hunger to consider ways they can support and encourage their local school districts to guarantee that every student who needs a healthy breakfast gets one. At La Vega, one of the barriers to this occurring—cost—has been eliminated. Using a provision in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the district is able to provide a free, nutritious breakfast to all its students without collecting applications, which reduces labor costs and increases revenue. Other districts are finding creative ways to ensure that every child has access to breakfast by offering it in the classroom at the beginning of the day or later in the morning after the first class.
You can be an advocate for every child in your community by asking your school administrators about their breakfast programs and if they have explored options to make the first meal of the day more accessible to students. Our communities have assumed for a long time that schools will pull out all the stops to provide a healthy lunch to all its students, as it occurs in the middle of the school day when the need for nutrition seems most evident. Let’s all push for the same assumption to be placed on breakfast, so that the high participation found at schools like La Vega is the norm, not an anomaly.
For more ways you can support your local school districts and join our efforts to end childhood food insecurity, contact your nearest THI office.