September 16, 2019 | 74° F

City program aims to alleviate hunger in public schools

Photo by Courtesy of Keith Jones |

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill joined Paul Robeson Community School students on April 9 for a meal provided by the “Breakfast After the Bell” program, which provides a free meal to public school children in the city.

Hungry students can have difficulty concentrating, and can ultimately distract their teachers and classmates. It can also cause headaches, stomach problems and issues with temper.

New Brunswick government has found a way to solve this problem along with others by introducing a program to feed every elementary and middle school-age child.

The city launched “Breakfast After the Bell” in a pilot program in Livingston Elementary School and Paul Robeson Community School last September. It has since expanded it to include every elementary school, said Keith Jones, chair of the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance. It plans to debut the program in the middle school by May.

Jones said the initiative began when his organization noticed children would only get access to food during the free or reduced lunch program in the middle of the day.

More than 5,000 students are included in this program, Jones said.

“It gives kids a level playing field,” he said.

Each child will have 10 to 15 minutes to eat during homeroom or early in the day, according to a press release from Jennifer Bradshaw from the Office of the Mayor.

Richard Kaplan, superintendent of New Brunswick schools, commended the new idea.

“Breakfast is an essential meal for our students to receive and will provide them with a healthy start as they begin their day in the classroom learning environment,” he said in the release.

The breakfast contains a rotating slate of whole grain cereal or a muffin, fruit juice, graham crackers, an apple or banana and milk, according to documents provided by Jones.

Although the breakfast program is not mandatory, they have accommodations for children with allergies such as nuts and gluten. Their food is prepared separately and labeled with their name.

In the press release, Mayor Jim Cahill said the program incorporated the city’s healthy living initiatives.

‘“Breakfast After the Bell’ provides greater access to nutritious food and ensures proper learning and healthy growth,” he said in the press release. “Most importantly, it ensures that no one goes hungry.”

Although the program was created and implemented locally, it is part of a national trend of breakfast ideas.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, the School Breakfast program provides funds to schools for breakfast programs.

The School Breakfast program, which was made permanent in 1975, now has more than 89,000 participating institutions. But the free breakfast only applies to families close to the poverty level, while New Brunswick distributes food equally.

The National School Lunch Program has funded New Brunswick’s costs, Jones said in an email. The federal government will reimburse the state $1.89 for every breakfast served to a student.

The district receives the meals from a subdivision of Chartwells, which also serves lunch to New Brunswick elementary schools, according to the district’s lunch menu.

More recently, West Virginia passed the Feed to Achieve Act mandating increased breakfast programs. More than 75 percent of public schools in the state have already implemented the concept, according to an Apr. 13 article for the Associated Press.

San Francisco has also integrated an expanded “Second Chance Breakfast” program for first-grade students to eat during recess, according to an article in the San Francisco Gate.

Jones said for now, the NBCFA is focusing on getting feedback and improving the details.

Pilot school Livingston Elementary School has gone from 130 to 360 students eating breakfast in the past year. The other pilot, Paul Robeson Community School, now has 460 students eating daily breakfast, an increase from last year’s 95.

“Right now we’re monitoring who eats breakfast … who doesn’t and ask why,” he said.

They are also holding an awareness campaign in worship houses and community centers to encourage parents to participate.

“This is a huge, huge, huge deal for the city of New Brunswick,” Jones said.

Erin Petenko

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