Promote, invest in healthy eating in schools

Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry
Investments in school food programs can lead to better educational and physical health.
Investments in school food programs can lead to better educational and physical health.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Most folks who pay their school taxes think they are covering school costs from A to Z, including lunch. 

Well, guess what.

The cafeteria is designed to be self-sufficient, even make a profit, and certainly not require money from the general fund. 

Food is not included. Period.

So when our local school district in Sharon Springs announced it had gotten a five-year grant for free lunches, breakfasts and snacks for all the kids, some thought the taxes would go down.

No, they won’t, since taxes don’t pay for meals in the first place.

But now every youngster can be nourished and have a leg up on learning.

Nothing ruins your concentration like a growling stomach, especially if the only meals you get are at school.

Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry. That’s basic and real.

The district also has a grant for an after-school program that provides help with homework, a nutritious snack, activities, late buses, computers and any other assistance the students need. This program was also made possible by confidential applications from families that qualify for free- or reduced-cost lunch, showing sometimes as many as 67 percent of our families in need.

“This baseline data also makes possible a variety of other programs for kids,” said Superintendent Pat Green and Business Manager Tony DiPace.

But families are hesitant to ask for help.

It is easy to understand their feelings, but no one knows who they are except the school officials. Families are strongly encouraged to apply. 

No jobs, low wages, higher costs and taxes — times are tough for more and more of our neighbors. And it shows up in the schools very quickly.

We’ve had homeless students who get clothing and shoes, personal care items and showers. One family donated the food costs back to the school for the band instrument fund, since they didn’t “need” the food grant. The school is indeed the heart of our village.    

In years past, the cafeteria at Sharon Springs Central School set up ID numbers for each student, entered into a keypad so no one but the cafeteria worker knew if that youngster got a free lunch or not; the other kids didn’t know either. Now, however, all students get free meals, so the numbers aren’t used. But this method allowed privacy and dignity for the youngster.  

The three women who run the cafeteria have been there for 15, 19 and 22 years, are moms and grandmothers, and keep a close caring eye on the kids.

Agriculture teacher/FFA advisor Anne Allen has built raised-bed gardens for an Edible Schoolyard program. She wants to expand this project as well, providing seasonal vegetables for the cafeteria and teaching students where our food comes from. It’s remarkable how many of them have no idea.

Cafeteria Manager Melissa Simpson is eager to be involved in the Farm-to-School programs organized by the Cornell Cooperative Extensions in New York, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed providing up to 30 percent of a school’s food costs for good, fresh local foods.

Now the state reimburses schools 6 cents per meal; 25 cents per meal has been proposed. If these happen, it’s a win-win for our kids and local farmers. 

Working locally is crucial for all of us.

There are programs and grants in New York to prevent hunger in our communities, and it is up to all of us to see to it that our kids — our future — are provided for.

It’s the very least we can do.

Find out if your local school needs you to help. It’s well worth it.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and shares organic produce with SSCS.

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