Your Turn: Vote to end hunger in our school district

You might expect that as the director of Douglas County’s food bank, I am writing to ask you to give food, money or time to my organization, Just Food. But as much as I would appreciate any of those commitments, today I’m asking you to consider fighting hunger in our community in a different way: By engaging in our upcoming school board election.

You may know that Just Food distributes food to thousands of people struggling with hunger in our community. We see childhood hunger every day within our food pantries at several area schools. You might not have realized what an important role school nutrition programs play in helping us prevent hunger in Lawrence. In the Lawrence district, more thane 3,000 kids receive free or reduced-price lunches on any given day. These meals are a critical source of nutrition for many kids in our community.

The Lawrence district’s nutrition programs already do a lot to help, but there are more opportunities candidates elected to the school board can encourage the district to take advantage of:

  • The School Breakfast Program helps school districts ensure their highest-need students receive adequate nutrition at the start of the school day. When students from low-income families do not eat breakfast at school, they risk not eating breakfast at all. Students who eat breakfast learn better and have fewer absences, tardies and discipline issues. In Lawrence, less than half of the students who receive free or reduced-price meals receive subsidized breakfast.

The district can reach more kids at breakfast by adopting creative approaches to increase participation. Alternative breakfast models, such as Breakfast in the Classroom and Grab & Go Breakfast, make breakfast more accessible to students by giving them more time to eat and by reducing the stigma that can be associated with eating breakfast in the cafeteria.

  • At Just Food, we know that kids also need food after the school day ends, but our resources only stretch so far. A federal after-school meals program allows schools to provide no-cost suppers, snacks and weekend and holiday meals to children in low-income areas. In Lawrence, eight school buildings are eligible to participate, but after-school meals have not been offered to students to date. The meals that could be served through these programs would be a big help in adding to the resources our community has to fight hunger.
  • During the three months of summer break, school meal programs are not available to provide the consistent nutrition that thousands of Lawrence kids from low-income families get at school. One way Just Food helps fill the gap is through supporting the federally funded Summer Food Service Program. The Lawrence Public Schools and community organizations are reaching many Lawrence kids who might otherwise go hungry over the summer through this program. School board members should support these efforts and encourage their expansion.

The Lawrence school district is an important partner in our work to combat hunger. If you are concerned about hunger in our community, please take advantage of opportunities to learn what school board candidates have to say about the issue. Then add voting in the Nov. 7 school board election to your list of ways to help prevent childhood hunger.

— Elizabeth Keever is executive director of Just Food.