by Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, March 4, Delaware’s First Lady, Tracy Carney, visited Benjamin Banneker Elementary School to celebrate School Breakfast Week. While at the school, Carney handed out breakfast to the children and learned more about how the school chooses the foods they offer each day.
“The school has a great system,” Carney said. “The carts you use are very flexible and the kids seem to know exactly what to do each morning. Offering breakfast at school is very important because so many children are unable to get breakfast at home. People just don’t know how important it is.”
Milford School District offers free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of income. According to Sharon Forrest, RDN, Child Nutrition Supervisor, in October 2016, before implementing the alternative breakfast models, participation in breakfast was approximately 43 percent for the entire district.
“Now, that figure is approximately 50 percent for the district, representing a 7 percent increase in breakfast participation overall,” Forrest said. “We have noticed a large increase at the elementary level with our three elementary schools, all above 64 percent participation and Morris Early Childhood Center at a participation rate of approximately 54 percent.”
In addition to offering free breakfast and lunch, Milford School District is working on programs that will feed children throughout the summer. They are currently planning food banks at both Morris and Milford High School, backpack programs and a possible mobile food bank that would take meals into the areas where students are most in need. Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, stated that they piloted a food bank program last summer and the participation was outstanding which is why they want to expand it again next year.
“I say all the time when people are negative about free programs like this,” Carney said. “I ask them “Have you ever been hungry in a meeting? How involved were you during that meeting? How was your concentration?” When they answer, I ask them how on Earth they expect a child to learn when they are hungry.”
Milford School Board President, Renate Wiley, who worked as a school nurse at Milford High School for many years, told Carney that she often had food in her office and invited kids she knew were not eating lunch to come eat with her.
“At the high school level, before we had the free meals for everyone, the kids who were on free lunch simply would not eat,” Wiley said. “They were embarrassed because when they plugged that number in, everyone knew. School needs to be a safe place for kids. They need to feel as if they are safe here when they are not safe anywhere else. The funding for free breakfast and lunch is critical to learning because a child simply will not learn if they are hungry.”
The summer programs are still in the planning stages and Dr. Dickerson said that once they are finalized, information will be provided to families.