Schools across the country are increasingly becoming where many poverty-stricken children eat three square meals a day, as many schools begin to offer their students breakfast, lunch and now dinner.
A study conducted by the Southern Education Foundation showed that 51% of students in the public school system in 2013 were part of low-income families. That number has been on the rise over the past few decades. In 1989, 32% of students in public schools lived in poverty.
In order to combat this, more schools across the country are beginning to offer children breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Others have begun to create food pantries in classrooms or closets, and teachers keep food items such as granola bars and crackers in their desks to offer to hungry students, writes Marisol Bello for USA Today.
After-school meals are being provided by schools were at least 50% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. A federal program from the US Department of Agriculture allowing schools to offer dinner to students expanded to include all 50 states in 2010. Before that, the program only applied to 13 states and the District of Columbia. According to the department, 108 million after-school meals were served during the 2014 fiscal year up from 81 million the year before.
New Jersey school districts have implemented a new program called "Breakfast After the Bell," which provides breakfast to students before the start of the school day in an effort to increase their attention span for the school day.
"Hungry children struggle to learn — when you change when you serve breakfast, from before school to the first few minutes of school, participation skyrockets," N.J. Advocates for Children Spokesperson Nancy Parello said.
Food pantries within school buildings are becoming increasingly popular as well. Last year saw 1,141 schools running food pantries, up from 834 in the previous year, according to Feeding America, the organization that runs 200 food banks across the United States.
In addition, over one-third of teachers, 37%, were found to purchase food for their students at least once a month, according to a 2015 study performed by No Kid Hungry. The average teacher spends about $35 a month on food to keep in their classrooms for hungry children.
One in five households in the US are considered to be food insecure, meaning that people within that household are in danger of going hungry or do not know if or when their next meal is coming.
"There is a need out there," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "In some areas, kids do not get the support at home they need to get nutritious meals."
In Iowa, Rep. Steve King has reintroduced the No Hungry Kids Act, in an effort to ensure that children get enough to eat while in school. The act would repeal the 2012 USDA rule that created new standards, including a calorie limit, as well as make sure that parents have the right to send their child to school with the foods they choose, reports Dana Larsen for The Daily Reporter.
King would like to see schools serving children as much nutritious foods as they want, "so that our students can grow and learn and excel, in school and out of school — in the classroom and on the playing field."