DC Public Schools afterschool supper program fills hunger gap

DC Public Schools afterschool supper program fills hunger gap (ABC7)

Afterschool food programs feed more than one million kids each school day across the country, sometimes easing the burden for parents and increasing academic success for students.

DC Public Schools is among the 22,000 federally-funded afterschool programs across the country.

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), based in Washington, released an afterschool nutrition report showing that in October 2016, nearly 1.1 million children received an afterschool supper. That is up from about 200,000 children in October 2011.

Crystal Fitzsimons with FRAC explained the supper program is relatively new and operates in low-income communities where at least half the kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

“So we know that there are a lot of kids whose primary meals come from the school breakfast and school lunch program and by providing an afterschool supper, we know that kids are not going hungry in the evening,” said Fitzsimons.

The food is having a bigger effect than filling empty stomachs.

“I think for a lot of students it gives them the security to know that they don’t have to question where their next meal will come from,” said Laura Cochrun, nutrition and compliance specialist at the school district.

Seventy-five percent of DC Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced school lunches. If those kids attend the afterschool programs they’ll get dinner too.

The study shows that nationally, only one child for every 20 low-income children who participates in the school lunch program, gets an afterschool supper. Fitzsimons said there is room for growth across the country.

“We know that the hours between 3 and 6 are when kids are at most risk for committing juvenile crime, being victimized by juvenile crime or doing unsafe activities and so putting kids in safe supervised enrichment programs is actually a huge benefit for kids and their families,” she said.

“So the students are not only getting meals, they’re getting after school instruction and engagement and it’s a great way for the students to continue the learning throughout the day for them,” Cochrun said.

Last year, the DC school district served 1.5 million dinners and it’s on track to do it again this year.

“When a student is hungry they can’t learn as well and they can’t behave as well because they have more urgent needs,” Cochrun said.

Meeting those needs means playing a positive role in academic success.

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