Shawnee Mission board expected to look at piloting after-school meal program at lower-income schools

The USDA’s program provides reimbursements to districts that provide after-school meal programs in low-income neighborhoods. Photo credit USDA.

At-large member Heather Ousley says she expects the Shawnee Mission Board of Education this month to begin discussion of piloting a subsidized after-school meal program in the district, an effort that could benefit students living in households facing food insecurity.

[pullquote]SMSD Schools Eligible for Participation in CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program

• Comanche
• Shawanoe
• Apache
• Nieman
• Crestview
• Rosehill
• Merriam Park
• Overland Park
• Hocker Grove
• Rising Star
• Broken Arrow[/pullquote]

Eleven Shawnee Mission schools have enough students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch programs to make the buildings eligible for the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program through the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). More than 5,600 student attend those schools. The program provides a reimbursement to districts that offer meal programs to students in low-income areas, making it effectively cost-neutral to the districts that take advantage of it.

Taking advantage of the program in Shawnee Mission was among the initiatives Ousley discussed during her campaign for the board, saying that increased access to meals could help low-income students achieve more in the classroom.

Joey Hentzler of the group Kansas Appleseed, an advocacy organization focused on underserved populations int he state, said Kansas has seen a number of districts take advantage of the program in recent years with considerable success. In Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools and Topeka Public Schools, the districts are able to provide after-school meals to thousands of students through CACFP.

Hentzler said public schools are in a unique position to address the issue of childhood food insecurity because of districts’ frequent contact with their students.

“Schools and nutrition officers are on the front lines of fighting childhood hunger,” he said. “When we’re talking about reducing childhood hunger, schools are front and center and have a lot of successes under their belts.”

Both Hentzler and Ousley note that participation in the program would require
some additional logistical organization and staff time for the district. Schools that participate must be offer an educational activity, like tutoring, during the after-school meal service time. And someone would have to be on site to either serve up hot meals, or distribute bagged meals that students could take home with them.

But those hurdles, Hentzler said, are relatively minor compared to the benefit to students who participate.

“You see kids who might be home alone in the evening because they’ve got parents who are working two jobs or extra hours,” he said. “Kids are faultless in those situations, and it’s critical to offer them access to an extra meal. Because if they’re hungry at home, it makes it harder for them to study, harder for them to learn when they’re in school, and it lowers retention.”

Ousley said she expected that the district would first look at piloting the program at one or two of the 11 eligible schools to establish smooth operation before considering expansion to all of the buildings.