- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

City officials and activists told D.C. Council members yesterday that they could expect good things from this years summer free-lunch program.
That is a marked departure from last summer, when school activists complained of hungry children, uncollected federal reimbursements and unhealthy food.
"This year, we stand at the precipice of something really good," said Reuben Gist of the Capitol Area Food Bank and one of the most vocal critics of the program last year. "This year, I am seeing the beginnings of a unified, cooperative approach. The fruit of that is that more of our children are going to eat."
Last summer, the council criticized the lack of outreach to students and zeroed in on problems with the food warehouse.
Improper accounting of the students eligible for the program cost the city in federal reimbursements.
The programs administrators last year shut out thousands of students from private and charter schools and those who didnt attend summer school. Officials say that wont happen this summer. All D.C. children, regardless of income, are eligible for the free meals during the summer.
The program has been upgraded, city officials said, and will do a better job of reaching out to community residents and recruiting more organizations and agencies to participate.
"We believe we have taken the steps to ensure that summer nutrition is widely available to all of our children, because hunger doesnt take a vacation," said Michele Tingling-Clemmons, who oversees the program.
Ms. Tingling-Clemmons said the agency expects to feed 32,000 children this summer through 196 sites. That is an increase of 3,000 children over last year.
Thirteen months ago, the school system handed off oversight of the program to Mayor Anthony A. Williams office, just weeks before summer school was to begin.City officials scrambled to create the State Education Office and charged it with the programs oversight.
"It was terrible," said one city official who declined to be named. "The school system just left these children to go hungry by closing feeding sites left and right and washing its hands of the program."
The council was critical of former schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for opting out so late while urging the city to create a better plan for the following year.
Last years critics, however, are open-minded about promises that the problems have been fixed.
"I am optimistic," said Jerald Woody Sr., a Ward 6 community activist. "I have great expectations. And I will be watching closely."
Council members say they will be watching, too.
"Two years ago, we didnt know how bad things had gotten," said Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the councils committee on education. "We are far more encouraged now that things are moving in the right direction." And now we are making sure of that."


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