As students across the country settle into the new school year, there is an opportunity for communities to provide nutritious meals and a safe space for children to gather when the school day ends, as well as contribute to their academic success.
This month, the National League of Cities (NLC), in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), awarded grants to 10 cities in Alabama, California and Kansas to create or expand programs providing children with afterschool and summer meals, through the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. This effort targets cities in states with low participation in the meal programs and encourages additional cities in these states to apply for CHAMPS funding. With support from the Walmart Foundation, NLC helped 41 cities across the country serve over 10 million meals to 100,000 children over the last five years.
With continued Walmart Foundation support, the 10 cities receiving CHAMPS grants in 2016 include: Alabaster, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuskegee in Alabama; Glendale, Riverside and Stockton in California; and Kansas City, Lawrence and Wichita in Kansas.
Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon believes that nutrition plays a critical role in influencing a child’s growth, development and academic achievements. Out of the 6,000 students within the Alabaster City School system, 40 percent, or 2,400 students, qualify for the National School Lunch Program, yet are not being reached. With the support of the CHAMPS initiative, the city will serve more children healthy meals by addressing transportation challenges and getting children to meal program sites through a mobile strategy that delivers meals to city parks, churches and throughout neighborhoods.
Rachea Simms, principal at Meadow View Elementary School in Alabaster, said she has received positive feedback on the afterschool meals program from both students and parents.
“Alabaster City School’s vision focuses on the school and community working together to help our students succeed. By offering our meals after school, our parents and students benefit tremendously,” Simms said. “We realize that it takes the efforts of many people for this program to succeed and we are so pleased to be a part of an initiative that makes our children smile.”
Participation in the summer nutrition programs plateaued across the country last year, despite three prior years of significant growth, according to a new FRAC report.
In Alabama and California, though more children are receiving free and reduced lunch in school, many are not being reached with afterschool and summer nutrition programs. In Kansas, a state with the lowest summer meal participation rates in the nation, fewer than one in 10 low-income children participate in the summer nutrition programs.
How are local elected officials ensuring that children have access to health meals by supporting the federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs in your city? Contact Jamie Nash with examples from your city that can be showcased here on NLC’s CitiesSpeak blog.
For more information, about after school and summer meals program, visit www.nlc.org/CHAMPS, or sign up below.
About the author: Jamie Nash is the Senior Associate for Benefit Outreach & Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.