Report: More MO Kids Start School Day with Healthy Breakfast
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - It's the most important meal of the day, and a new report finds more Missouri children in high-poverty areas are starting the school day with a healthy breakfast.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, nearly 217,000 kids across the state took part in the federal School Breakfast Program last school year, up about 3 percent from the previous year.
Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri, formerly the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said the program plays a critical role.
"We have a significant hunger problem in our state," she said. "About one in four families with children are food insecure, meaning there's some part of the month where they have trouble making it with the resources they have."
Oxford said the trend is positive, but there is still much room for improvement in the state. Right now, about 57 Missouri kids receive free breakfast for every 100 who also receive free lunch. She said the state would be eligible for more than $12 million in additional federal money for the food programs if it could bring the ratio up to 70 out of 100.
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, says a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called Community Eligibility can help states such as Missouri reach more children, because it allows schools to feed all students free of charge if most of them are low-income.
"The advantage of this is, it eliminates the stigma of these programs being seen as 'for poor kids.' It eliminates the differential between what kids are eating. It eliminates paperwork," he said. "It's just fabulous all around to offer meals to all kids for free."
In addition to reducing behavioral issues and improving classroom performance, Mott Oxford said, the School Breakfast Program helps improve the lives of many Missouri families.
"There's a lot of folks trying to make it on pretty-low-wage jobs out there," she said. "It's really hard for them to put food on the table, and if they can receive assistance from federal nutrition programs, that helps them stretch what money they have for food a lot farther."
School districts have until the end of June to sign up for the Community Eligibility Program.
The report and Community Eligibility information are online at frac.org.