Middletown City Schools in Ohio marks the latest school system in the state to work to end hunger among its students. The district recently launched a $225,000 program for food trucks to travel to students on non-school days — it will also travel to low-income communities in the city this summer — to feed those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the Journal-News.
Middletown and New Miami Local Schools mark two districts in Butler County where 100% of students were eligible for free school meals in 2018. Middletown follows two neighboring districts, Lakota Local Schools — which served an average of 273 meals per day last year — and Hamilton schools in implementing mobile food units to feed students, the Journal-News reports.
In nearby Warren County, another district's food program works to support its high-needs students. In Kings Local Schools' "power pack" program, volunteers put a weekend's worth of food into bags and discreetly deliver them to students’ lockers or outside classrooms on Friday afternoons so students have food to eat while they're out of school.
Student hunger is a major problem in areas across the country, and having insufficient access to meals can hurt students in their physical, mental and academic development. And thousands of children are affected — the No Kid Hungry organization estimates that 1 in 6 children in the United States face hunger on a regular basis.
Hungry students and children have trouble focusing, learning and staying on task. And research indicates that these young students do poorly in school and have more behavior problems than those who don't. Even skipping breakfast, research has shown, lowers a students’ chances of having a successful day at school.
As demonstrated with the Ohio districts' efforts, many schools and community organizations are taking action to minimize the effects of this problem not only during the school day, but also on breaks and periods during which children aren't coming to school. In some cases, including that of Middletown City Schools, operating food trucks serve as a way to reach lower-income communities during the summer and ensure they have sufficient meal options.
However, districts don't have to handle these tasks alone, and they can expand their reach and impact by partnering with local agencies to access funds and work together — especially during summers, when school lunches aren’t being provided. In addition, schools can also reach out to community groups that assist with other issues facing low-income or needy families, including securing reliable internet connection. Some businesses have already proven they're willing to chip in — the Darden restaurant family, which includes Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Capital Grille, donates its extra food to local food banks.
In addition, districts can reach out and apply for grants to help fund food delivery programs. Government organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as nonprofits including The Alliance To End Hunger, award funding to organizations aiming to feed hungry children.