Ending hunger in school

Over the past year, one of our Fiscal Agency partner programs called “Meals Matter” has worked diligently and creatively to put an end to food insecurity in the Nashua Schools. While many kids can afford to bring or buy lunch in school, and others qualify for “free and reduced lunch” programs, still others fall through the cracks. This can happen because kids just barely miss the cutoff, but still cannot really afford lunch. Or others haven’t had the ability to sign up for the program. The Meals Matter program has developed a system at Nashua High South, to be implemented next year also at Nashua High North, whereby students can easily obtain a voucher for these types of situations. This creative solution, powered by the energy of some amazing kids, has brought reality to the idea that we can end hunger in our schools.

I should note at this point that I’ve plagiarized some of the comments in this article from my good friends from Nashua High South, Suzanne Winters and Lisa Yates. I ask for their forgiveness!

The next step for Meals Matter is implementation for the next school year of a program of “share carts,” which has the approval, and through donations also now the funding, to be implemented in all 17 Nashua Schools this fall! But what is a “share cart.” Simply put, it’s a cart with a refrigeration unit build in, where a student can place unopened items from their lunches that can be taken by other students who might still be hungry. When I was in school, I never drank my milk. For some reason I never really liked the taste, so I chose instead to go to the bubbler for a drink of water. What happened to the milk which I had to take as a requirement of the USDA lunch policy? In my case, most often, it ended up sadly in the trash….. along with lots of other items. In fact, estimates on food waste in schools vary, but can be 25% or more!

Imagine if we could replace the phrase “I hate carrots,” commonly heard in school cafeterias, with the phrase “I’ll eat that!” When students go through the lunch line, they are required to take foods that create a nutritious meal as outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture school lunch policies. These guidelines are necessary for healthy nutrition, however many of the required food items are not consumed by students and are thrown away. Food share carts are an answer to this national dilemma. Food share carts provide nutritious food to students who might still be hungry or need a snack after school. Food share carts provide an opportunity for a student to place pre-packaged, unopened products on the cart for other students to take.

When I met about a month ago with our friends from Meals Matter and they talked about this simple, yet effective policy, we immediately started thinking about funding resources for a program which was estimated to cost about $750 per school. First to jump on board with a commitment were our good friends from the Nashua Teachers Union. Of course, teachers know what happens when kids are hungry. They don’t learn! Next came the Nashua Rotary with a grant to help implement this program. Then, last but not least, came Southern New Hampshire Health and United Way to help fund the program. We all recognized that this program would help create a permanent and self-sustaining solution to a very real problem. Once purchased, very little additional costs will be required to keep the program going, kids will be healthier and there will be better learning outcomes. Do these types of success stories happen in other communities? Of course! However, sometimes the ease of getting projects like this launched in Nashua, collaboratively, astonishes me. I shouldn’t really be surprised, though, because GREAT THINGS REALLY DO HAPPEN WHEN WE LIVE UNITED!

Mike Apfelberg is President of United Way of Greater Nashua.

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