Feeding Hungry Children
By Naomi Dillon
Food service operations are feeling the heat from a poor economy, rising food prices, and more federal regulations. At the same time, they’re doing more than ever to help low- income children. There are no easy tasks in running a school district. Yet, for the food services division, the past several years have been particularly difficult.
Rising food and fuel prices, new government regulations, natural disasters, and growing poverty levels have all led to tumultuous times for child nutrition departments which, by and large, are self-sustaining operations in most districts.
Earlier this year, the Census Bureau announced the national poverty rate had risen to 15.1 percent of the population in 2010, the highest since 1993. Even that figure may be understated, however. A separate analysis by the Food Research and Action Center and Gallup-Healthways found one in five Americans struggles with “food hardship.”
Signs of economic strain in America can be found in the school lunch line. In 2000, 57 percent of the 45 million children who participated in the National School Lunch Program received free and reduced-price meals. A decade later, 65 percent of 52 million students received such aid, with the rate rising 6 percent since 2007 alone.
“The trend continues to go up,” says Dianne Pratt-Heavner, media relations director for the School Nutrition Association (SNA). “Schools are beginning to really see a lot more free-meal-eligible children, even more than reduced-meal-eligible ones.”