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As Ohio School Bells Ring, Kids' Tummies Rumble

PHOTO: A child thinking of food. Courtesy of Share Our Strength.
PHOTO: A child thinking of food. Courtesy of Share Our Strength.
August 27, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The rumbling of an empty stomach makes it hard for many Ohio children to focus on their school work. A survey of teachers across the United States, including Ohio, finds that three out of five say students regularly come to school hungry because they did not get enough to eat at home.

The Vinton County Schools are among those offering free breakfast and lunch programs. Assistant Superintendent Mary Ann Hale calls it "heart-wrenching" to see so many children affected by hunger.

"You know that it's an issue when a little kid is going through the lunch line, and they're already asking what's going to be for breakfast the next morning, because they're concentrating on the fact that perhaps this might be their last meal before they come back to school the next morning."

Hale says well-nourished children learn better, are absent less frequently and overall are more productive during the school year. The report found that school meals offer a safety net, with 56 percent of teachers saying "a lot" or "most" of their students rely on them as a primary source of nutrition.

According to the Ohio Department of Education, about 1.9 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program statewide. At the department's Office of Child Nutrition, interim director Mary Kershaw says many schools serve free breakfast, as well as offer snacks and backpack food options.

"We're reaching quite a number of children, each and every day. With USDA's new meal pattern, we are providing much more fruits and vegetables, as well as more whole grains, so the nutrition quality of the meals has improved over previous years' meals."

Hale says, still, too many children miss out on the critical meal of breakfast. She says only 47 percent of those who receive a free or reduced-priced lunch during the school year also participate in the School Breakfast Program.

"We've got to all come together and try to do something to make sure that those little bellies are not aching from hunger."

The Ohio "No Kid Hungry" Allies, including the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, work with schools and communities to ensure that school breakfast programs are accessible to all students.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH