Thursday, September 22, 2011

Increasing School Breakfast in Texas - A VISTA Story

By Mary Agnew - AmericCorps VISTA 
(originally posted on the Food Nutrition Services section of the USDA website)

Growing up in a middle-class household, free and reduced lunch was not part of my vocabulary. Not once did I worry about the availability of my next meal. As an adult, I have joined the AmeriCorps VISTA Anti-Hunger Corps to gain experience in the field of nutrition education in order to reach my goal of becoming a registered dietitian. I had no idea that working at the Texas Hunger Initiative at Baylor University would lead to such an eye-opening experience.

During my college years I did volunteer work sporadically feeding the homeless at a local church. The face of hunger to me was a disheveled person in tattered clothes sleeping on a city bus stop bench. Now, the face of hunger could be the 9-year-old at the elementary school down the street who relies on school meals as his sole source of nutrition. He comes to school Monday lethargic, falls asleep in class and continually asks his teacher “How much longer till lunch?” This is why I feel that school nutrition programs are so vital to our society.

Mary Agnew (left) and Lisa Losasso (Dairy MAX) at a breakfast event at Connally ISD in Waco, Texas, where they talked about why breakfast in the classroom is so important.

Of all the children who qualify for free and reduced lunch in Texas, just over half participate in school breakfast. The goal for my VISTA year is to increase access to school breakfast so that every child in Texas starts the day with food in their belly. The Breakfast in the Classroom program is my main focus, and the program is gaining momentum across the Nation. I developed a Breakfast in the Classroom toolkit and teamed up with Dairy MAX and the USDA to spread the good word about the breakfast program that will bring breakfast participation rates close to 100% while providing kids with the nutrition they need to succeed during the school day. Connally Primary and Elementary school are starting Breakfast in the Classroom August 22, which is the first day of school out here. They are going to do the "Grab and Go" method!"

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