For far too many children in America, the breakfast and lunch they receive at school are the only nutritious meals — possibly the only nutritious meals — they receive on a daily basis.
According to data from the School Nutrition Association, 20.2 million children receive a free lunch daily through the National School Lunch Program, while another 1.8 million children qualify for reduced-price meals.
Danville Public Schools is no different from the thousands of school divisions across the nation confronting this problem, though the statistics show our city is a bit more stressed than many. According to data from the Virginia Department of Education, under guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, DPS qualifies to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students at all schools every day. That’s 5,684 students served each day of the just concluded 2018-19 school year.
We all know that it’s all but impossible for a child who arrives at school in the morning with an empty belly to focus on classroom activities while waiting hours for lunch period, hence the implementation of free breakfasts for DPS students several years ago. And many of those students, were it not for many churches and other community organizations, might not see another meal from lunch on Friday until breakfast Monday morning.
Three lines of data from the U.S. Census give you all the information to understand these numbers and their impact:
Between 2013 and 2017, median household income in Danville was $34,951. The per capita income during that same time period was $21,882. And the kicker: The percentage of persons in Danville living in poverty is 24.4 percent.
Six years ago, Danville school officials launched a summer feeding program to address the needs of these at-risk students during the months when school is closed. Cafeterias at selected schools were opened to provide free meals for the kids, along with other community venues such as community centers and churches.
This year, the division upped their game with the hope of reaching even more children in the city by purchasing a food truck. Now, school nutritionists can go directly to where the children are with meals, making it even easier to reach those in need. Indeed, the first week of the food truck’s operation saw between 140 and 160 children served daily with about 600 meals distributed.
The food truck is also wifi equipped, giving students an opportunity to access the internet, meeting their educational needs while simultaneously meeting their nutritional needs.
Speaking to ABC News, Schools Superintendent Stanley Jones laid it on the line why DPS is so committed to this program: “As a public school system, we have to meet the needs of our students. We can’t meet their education needs without meeting other needs.”
In other words, a child can’t learn, can’t develop, on an empty belly. We applaud DPS officials for moving aggressively and innovatively to care for children of this community.