CHARLES TOWN – With Panhandle youngsters wrapping up the school year weeks early, some worry that needy students who count on the school system for breakfast and lunch five days a week might spend weeks in early June hungry.
[cleeng_content id="t1" price="0.15" description="Read it now!"]That shouldn’t happen, says Rick Goff, executive director of the Office of Child Nutrition for the West Virginia Department of Education.
“There’s no reason the summer food service programs can’t start early,” he said from his office in Charleston this week. “There shouldn’t be a lag. It ought to be a seamless transition for the schoolchildren.”
With no snow days to make up this year, students in Jefferson County will have their final day of the 2011-12 school year just after the Memorial Day long weekend – on May 29. In Berkeley County, where the school year started earlier, students’ final day of the school year is set for May 22.
Goff said the summer meal programs are administered by each individual county, but that by filing paperwork early enough, county school officials should be able to get the programs up and running a few weeks earlier than in past years.
“There’s nothing to prevent school ending one day and the summer programs starting the next,” he said.
Goff said that particularly for families with several children, the weekly grocery tab is likely to take a noticeable jump once students are eating breakfast and lunch at home every weekday rather than getting free or reduced-price meals at school.
“Having meals available to students through the Summer Food Service Program is essential,” Goff said. “It’s such an important safety net.”
The Energy Express summer food programs will again be offered at North Jefferson and Ranson elementary schools although start dates haven’t been determined yet, said Arlene Leonard, coordinator of child nutrition for Jefferson County Schools.
Students will be able to get free breakfast and lunch three days a week, she said.
She’d like to see more summer meal locations set up for Jefferson County. But the school system can’t tackle the problem of hungry schoolkids alone, she said.
Churches, community groups or other organizations can sign up to sponsor additional Energy Express sites, Leonard said. “Any place where the health department can come in and inspect the kitchen is a potential location – it doesn’t have to be a service that’s offered only by the school system,” she said. “Other organizations can sign up for the federal reimbursement for food, just the way we do.”
Want to know more?
• For information on designated Summer Food Service Programs and other food assistance anywhere in the country, call the National Hunger Hotline at 866-3-HUNGRY.
• The Bags Of Love program provides soup, cereal, peanut butter and other shelf-stable foods for hundreds of in-need schoolchildren in Jefferson and Berkeley counties to eat when they can’t get meals at school. The group’s next packing session starts at 10 a.m. on March 31 at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg. For details on how to help, contact Jessica Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Joel Larson at 304-579-5337.
• In Charles Town, additional food help for struggling families is available through the Jefferson County Community Ministries, which is headquartered at 238 W. Washington St. The organization’s website is www.jccm.us.[/cleeng_content]