Memphis City Schools offers supper to students
At 2:30 in the afternoon, it's been four hours since lunch, and Will Adams, 11, needs more than a snack to get through his day, which ends at 6 p.m. when after-care closes.
He and hundreds of other students got a meal ticket upgrade last week when Memphis City Schools rolled out after-school supper in 70 schools -- free to students in its after-hours enrichment programs.
"With a snack, I'd go home hungry," said Will. "With supper, I go home full."
As part of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids legislation passed in 2010, the federal government is now in the supper business, budgeting $641 million over 10 years to make sure children in the nation's ever-growing poor pockets get one more balanced meal a day.
"It's wonderful," said Larry Hopson, site coordinator at Shelby Oaks Elementary where about 100 children -- prekindergarten to fifth grade -- were at long cafeteria tables for their second government-subsidized meal -- if not the third -- that day.
"They are really enjoying carrots and ranch dressing dip. It's exciting, " Hopson said.
Friday, there were chicken fiesta salads -- iceberg dotted with a confetti of black beans, cheese corn and diced tomato -- plus ham sandwiches on wheat, apples, raw carrots and cherry tomatoes.
Schools and community groups are reimbursed $2.77 per supper, plus slightly more than 22 cents in federal commodities. The money has to cover food costs, plus labor to make the meals, ship them to the schools and cover costs of serving and cleanup.
"Here's the reality: For a lot of the kids that come to school, the only real meal they can count on comes from the school," said Tony Geraci, new executive director of MCS school nutrition program.
"There is this enormous gap between lunch and breakfast the next day. Our goal is to fill the gap."
Ninety percent of the children at Shelby Oaks Elementary, in the 6000 block of Summer Avenue, qualify for free and reduced lunches, the federal definition of poverty for families with school-age children.
Yvonne Madlock, head of the Memphis Shelby County Health Department, can see only positives.
"This will help make the children healthier. They will be better prepared to learn and do the work they have to do that night," she said.
"A good meal should also help them get a good night's rest."
As long as the suppers are served in areas where 50 percent of families meet the income guidelines, schools or any other agency serving the meals do not need to certify family income, part of legislative changes to the nutrition legislation in 2010.
"Each child that attends can eat. It's a great way to reduce the administrative paperwork," said Crystal FitzSimons, spokeswoman for Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit agency that works to shape policy to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the United States.
MCS started with salads and sandwiches. In a month or two, it plans to be serving hot suppers most afternoons for the same money.
It's also pushing to expand its breakfast programs from 30 to 50 schools by Christmas break.
"It's guaranteed funding," Geraci said. "So for us, it's a matter of feeding the kids. I have to say my staff has fully embraced this."
Between 2007 and 2008 the nation's official poverty rate increased from 12.5 percent (37.3 million people) to 13.2 percent (39.8 million people), the first statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004 and the highest poverty rate since 1997.
Figures out last week show nearly one in five Memphians are below the poverty line, making Memphis the poorest city with 1 million residents or more.
"We are thrilled that Memphis public schools are serving an after-school meal," FitzSimons said. "There is a tremendous amount of need. This is a huge opportunity to combat hunger and improve nutrition."
Shelby County Schools is not serving supper, although the number of students meeting eligibility guidelines has tripled from 12 percent in 2000 to 37 percent today.
Any community group may apply to serve the suppers, including the Urban League, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and city park and recreation program.
While there are yet no hard numbers on national participation in school suppers, FitzSimons expects the program will grow rapidly "when people find out."
"They are just starting to hear and contact their states now," she said.
Sounds like we can cut ADC and food stamp debit card payments considerably in Memphis. Since, mom doesn't have to feed the kids at all for 5 days a week.