More schools serving dinner as need increases
Districts including Los Angeles USD and Dallas ISD will expand after-school supper programs this year, responding to the growing number of students who don’t get an evening meal at home.
Nationwide, the number of students served dinner or an after-school snack reached nearly 1 million last year. In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expanded after-school meal programs to all 50 states after piloting them in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Schools where more than half of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are reimbursed for each dinner by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at a rate that is often higher than the cost of the meal.
Some 104 million dinners were served to students in the 2014 fiscal year, up from 19 million in 2009.
“Many students do not have anything to eat or enough to eat after lunch until the next breakfast meal at school,” says Tim Bower, administrator of LAUSD’s before- and after-school programs. “By providing a supper meal, we are ensuring the gap in time for this to occur is covered.”
LAUSD serves some 70,000 dinners daily at 584 schools. The meals are available to any student 18 and under, whether or not they take part in an after-school program.
In Dallas ISD, the after-school dinner program has grown from 37 schools to 136 schools in the past two years. School officials say they have retained more students in after-school programs since they started serving dinner. The meal includes milk, bread or a grain, meat or a meat alternative, and two servings of different vegetables or fruit.
LAUSD serves more than 127 million meals each year to its 640,000 students. The expansion of the dinner program is expected to increase participation by 36 percent, and is budgeted to generate a net income of $16.6 million. These funds will continue to expand the program, and also bolster the district’s annual cafeteria budget.
“When student do not have to worry about whether or not they will have food, they remain focused on learning,” Bower says.