- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Officials yesterday announced an expansion of the District’s student-meal program to include dinners — part of a comprehensive plan to eradicate child hunger in the city within the next decade.

The D.C. State Education Office, which facilitates the student-meal program, will expand to include a third daily meal for the approximately 25,000 students who participate in after-school programs, said Deborah A. Gist, the state education officer.

Nutritiously-balanced dinners such as turkey, vegetables and juices will replace the small afternoon snacks currently provided — fruit, graham crackers, granola bars and milk.

The dinner program, which will operate in conjunction with the D.C. Parks and Recreation department, begins in about a month, Miss Gist said.

The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in the Nation’s Capital, a group of nonprofit organizations dedicated to ending child hunger citywide, detailed the 10-point comprehensive plan at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Northwest.

About 35,000 children in the District are hungry or on the edge of hunger, according to the group’s estimations.

“We’re going to surround them with food wherever they are — home, school, after-school programs,” said Kimberly Perry, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “Not only are we going to end child hunger, we’re going to do it within 10 years … This is not pie-in-the-sky, this is real.”

Officials say more than $14 million annually in federal funding available to D.C. residents goes unused — including $8 million in unclaimed tax credits and $2.5 million worth of food stamps.

The $14 million would enable about 25,000 children to eat three government-subsidized meals daily, Miss Perry said.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who spoke at the event, called the plan a “great representation of true partnership.”

“The bottom line is that low-income children have not been getting enough healthy food,” said Mr. Williams, who was joined at the center by about 60 children from Adams Elementary School and Little Flower Montessori School.

More than 1.2 million meals were served to about 25,000 D.C. youths through the Free Summer Meals Program last year, Miss Gist said. The State Education Office reimburses participating after-school facilities and organizations that provide the meals.

The program was created to ensure that children from low-income families who depend on school meals would receive nutritious meals during extended school breaks, such as summer and Christmas vacations.

“Hunger doesn’t take a vacation,” said John Stokes, the State Education Office’s director of communication.

One of the 10 points outlined yesterday is providing children with a healthy breakfast. Last year, D.C. officials declared that all students were eligible for the free-breakfast program.

The nonprofit organizations — D.C. Hunger Solutions, the Food Research and Action Center and Share Our Strength — say it will cost $1.4 million annually to implement the plan, which will be funded by the Case Foundation, Sodexho Foundation, Capital One and other private sources.

About half of this year’s total has been raised thus far, Miss Perry said. The majority of the funding would be for additional staff to educate families and food providers about financial options — many of which residents and organizations are unaware are available, she said.

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