No Kid Hungry campaign seeks to grow after-school meals SolStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus

No Kid Hungry campaign seeks to grow after-school meals

FM recently sat down with Carolyn Wait, senior program manager of the Share Our Strength Center for Best Practices for the No Kid Hungry campaign to learn about the initiative and the potential benefits it can extend to school nutrition programs. Here are highlights.

What exactly is the distinction between Share Our Strength and No Kid Hungry?

Share Our Strength is the actual organization, a non-profit, while No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength. Share Our Strength is dedicated to lessening hunger and poverty worldwide and the No Kids Hungry campaign is typically focused on ending childhood hunger in the United States. 

What are the No Kid Hungry program goals?

Our primary strategy is connecting kids where they live, learn and play with existing federal child nutrition programs, since these are a sustainable, ongoing way to fund [dining initiatives]. However, we find that sometimes organizations need technical assistance to learn how to get started or to maximize their programs. We also do a lot of grant funding to meet startup costs for equipment and supplies or staffing to get started, and we also do a lot of outreach promotion just to raise awareness about these programs. 

Why are school nutrition programs important in this work?

We developed a concept with the School Nutrition Association called Schools as Nutrition Hubs because we’ve found that parents really trust schools and that school nutrition professionals have the expertise, experience and facilities to run [expanded] programs. So we’re trying to reach schools to get them to maximize all the available child nutrition programs [and communicating to them] the financial benefits of operating a nutrition hub that goes beyond just serving lunch to maximizing breakfast and also offering after-school meals and snacks and summer meals. 

You work specifically in the after-school area. What are the primary challenges you see?

When it comes to after-school meals, because it is still a relatively new program, people are still learning about it, honestly, so we’re just raising awareness that the program exists and the benefits that can be realized from operating one. Sometimes people may think that they’ll have to pay for more food or more staff [and figure] it’s not really going to be worth it. [However,] because of the reimbursement structure of after-school meals [which is] different from school breakfast and lunch, [programs] may actually be able to really offset the additional costs in a way breakfast and lunch may not be able to. 

What are some key considerations for establishing an after-school meal program?

A lot of kids are staying after school for aftercare and various activities, and nutrition professionals need to realize just how many kids are in those activities, and then to figure the most effective service model to make sure they’re reaching as many of those kids as possible. Federal regulations state that if you have an after-school enrichment program that is open to all students, then you can serve meals to everyone. And that’s the case with most schools, as they have tutoring after school and all sorts of clubs and activities that are open to everyone. So, as long as you have an open-to-all enrichment program, you can serve meals to everyone and don’t have to track meals to see if a child is actually going to a particular club or activity.

We’ve found that some nutrition professionals are very hesitant to expand their programs because they think that you can only serve the kids who are in a specific enrolled program, and we work with them to realize that it can be a little bit broader. [We also help in developing] a service model to maximize the program, which can mean serving the meal right at the bell both for kids who are leaving after school and also for kids going to activities [on school grounds] who may not get the chance to come back down to the cafeteria. 

But it doesn’t just have to be limited to the cafeteria, does it?

No, we really encourage schools to think about what is best for their students and for their building setup, and so while at some schools the cafeteria is a central gathering space, in others it may be the back of the building or another floor. We really want them to think about where kids are congregating after school, because that could be a good serving location where they might set up cafes, kiosks and things like that. Schools should especially look at where large activity groups like bands and sports teams meet and take meals to those large groups because they may not all be able to come to the [cafeteria] serving line. Plus, that can also make the serving line in the central area less crowded. 

Just to be clear, there are actually two different federal after-school feeding programs. What are the differences?

There are two separate budget streams for after-school snacks and after-school meals. One program, [run] through NSLP, is just for snacks, and that has to be run by a school food authority, but they can sponsor community locations if they want. [In the other program, run] through the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), schools and other nonprofit sponsors can serve both a supper and a snack.

So, if schools do want to serve suppers, they have to go through the CACFP after-school meal component. I also want to emphasize that there is a requirement with both CACFP afterschool meals and NSLP afterschool snacks that there be afterschool enrichment activities available and offered, and the kids need to stay onsite. So even in the service models that [distribute meals and snacks] where the kids are, or where they are served in a central area but take [the food] to their activities, the kids have to stay on campus with their meals. 

Final thoughts?

Our work is really just helping school nutrition professionals to see that starting and sustaining a successful supper program is achievable, and we want them to know that we are here to help, whether it is through grant funding or with technical assistance or with making connections to other schools that have been successful with [such programs]. We really want school nutrition professionals to feel empowered to start a supper program and expand it. There is such a real need for this with one in six kids in America struggling with hunger, and yet only one afterschool supper is currently served for every 20 free or reduced-price school lunches served.

No Kid Hungry offers several resources to empower school nutrition professionals and provide them with the technical assistance they need to be successful. They include Three Meals a Day: A Win-Win-Win for Schools, a resource guide developed in collaboration with the School Nutrition Foundation that walks through starting and expanding the after-school meals program step by step, the CACFP Afterschool Meals Program Expansion with the Umbrella Model report brief, which discusses expanding service to all students as long as activities are available and the Increasing CACFP Afterschool Meals with Supper in the Classroom report brief.

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