Wake leaders are touting progress in providing food for the county’s most vulnerable students.
The county on Tuesday announced that every public school in Wake where more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch now has at least one program that offers free food for students before or after school.
Wake offered programs such as Universal School Breakfast and Backpack Buddies and also opened food pantries at 38 of the 48 poorest schools in 2015, when Commissioner Matt Calabria launched an effort to provide more food security for students. His initiative launched programs at the remaining 10 schools over the last 18 months.
“Research proves that students can’t focus on learning in the classroom if they’re hungry,” Calabria said in a statement. “Nearly 45,000 children in our county may not always know where their next meal is coming from, which is why it’s so important to provide a source of healthy food that they can count on.”
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An exact cost of the effort wasn’t immediately available Tuesday. But Calabria said it costs the county about $7,000 per school to launch a Universal Breakfast program, which offers all students a free breakfast regardless of family income. It costs the county about $5,000 to start a food pantry, he said.
Calabria’s group includes Wake’s public school system, the county government, Capital Area Food Network, Community Food Lab and Interfaith Food Shuttle.
In the past year and a half, the group programs like Universal Breakfast and Backpack Buddies at local elementary schools. Backpack Buddies is a nationwide program that provides a weekend’s worth of food for low-income elementary students by sending it home with them in backpacks.
The group also added food pantries at East Wake, Knightdale, Longview, Mary Phillips and Southeast Raleigh high schools last fall because food pantries are more discrete than other programs.
“Mary E. Phillips High School is a great example of the effectiveness of establishing a food pantry at a school,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, chairwoman of the Wake school board.
“From October 2016 when it opened through January 2017, it provided enough fresh, healthy food to serve 1,721 meals,” she said.
Next, the group hopes to add food pantries at three more sites, Calabria said.