By Ramona du Houx
Nutritious food helps develop babies’ brains and bodies, gives kids the energy to excel and reduces the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. But 15.8 percent of Maine households, about 200,000 individuals, are food insecure. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 children in Maine don’t know when or where they will get their next meal. Many rely on school meals. But when school lets out for summer they have to fend for themselves.
That's why foundaitons like Full Plates/Full Potential of Portland, Maine are so important. Started in 2015 their mission is to end childhood hunger in Maine. Their advocacy helped hearld new legislation in Augusta to sucess.
“Access to adequate nutrition is critical for children's academic and social emotional development,” said Heather Zimmerman, Advocacy Director of Preble Street. “However, right now nearly half of all Maine students qualify for free and reduced price meals. The child nutrition bills passed by the Maine legislature this year will increase access to school meals, helping to reduce hunger in Maine and ensure all students have access to the nutrition they need to thrive.”
LD 701: includes two major child hunger policies:
The state will now create an online application for federal child nutrition food programs. Today 81,838 students are enrolled in federal food programs for free and reduced-price meals. There are many more children, however, who qualify for these programs but don’t enroll because their families never turn in their paper applications. Because of this law, the state will provide an online application system, in addition to the paper form, that local school districts can use to make it easier for parents to apply.
For breakfast, schools will change their models to the national best practice known as Breakfast After the Bell. Serving breakfast after the first bell in the classroom or on a cart just outside of the classroom will increase participation and reduce the stigma for eligible children. The new law also includes funds to pay for infrastructure like food carts and point of sale systems to ease the burden on local school districts.
LD 549: For lunch, students who qualify for reduced price lunch will now eat for free. For these 11,000 students, often the reduced cost of lunch can be too much for families to afford, causing children to accumulate lunch debt. Eliminating the reduced-price category ensures that these students caught in the middle can access nutritious school lunches while reducing the administrative burden on school nutrition directors.
LD 577: After-school programs, from sports to school clubs, are a hallmark of many students' educational experiences. Most students arrive at after-school programs hours after they’ve eaten lunch. This new law will give children the opportunity to eat nutritious meals with their peers so that they can learn, focus and complete after-school activities. Currently, only 28 of the 271 schools eligible actually participate in this federal food program.
“These four childhood hunger bills will allow more Maine kids to grow up healthy, learn and reach their full potential,” said Anna Korsen, Full Plates Full Potential’s Program Director. “The legislature passed a better service model for breakfast, supported an underutilized after-school meals program, created an online application system so that families can sign up for nutritious meals and eliminated a financial barrier for lunch.”