WASHINGTON — Carrie Woodruff, food director for Lima schools, was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to participate in U.S. House and Senate briefings, joining the director of child nutrition for the West Virginia Department of Education and representatives from Food Research and Action Center, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Woodruff spoke on the district’s experience with the Community Eligibility Provision, part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This provision allows for breakfasts and lunches to be provided free of charge to all students in schools with at least 62.5 percent of them receiving public assistance. With a districtwide rate of 64 percent, Lima was one of the few districts in which every building qualified to participate. According to Woodruff, the response to the new program has been very positive.
“We have 93 percent participation in lunch and about 89 percent participation in breakfast,” she said. “In looking across the nation, that’s pretty good, especially being districtwide. Some schools would qualify to serve elementary or middle schools, but we qualified district wide. To have high participation in both lunch and breakfast is unusual.”
Woodruff has seen a large increase in the number of participating students throughout the school year.
“We serve as many breakfasts as we do lunches,” she said. “We’ve have an increase of almost 200 lunches at the high school, and one of the reasons is we offer seven different choices for free lunches. We want to make sure they have options and they would be interested in the lunch.”
Having well-fed students is a tremendous asset to any school district, according to Woodruff.
“We see less nurse visits, more academic success, higher test scores and better attention spans,” she said. “A hungry child can’t learn.”
Being the only speaker from a local school district, Woodruff was able to relate firsthand the many advantages this program offers, such as streamlining and simplifying the process both families and administrators have to go through to get these meals to the children that need them.
“The parents are very supportive,” she said. “Those that pay now don’t have to worry about that. Also principals aren’t worrying about trying to chase down parents to fill out applications or collect charges. The students don’t have to worry about forgetting lunch money. With the new lunches that we’re serving, students are also having more opportunities to get fresh vegetables and fruit.”
Woodruff is hopeful that these discussions will help members of Congress encourage school districts in their own states to sign up for this provision.
“Basically, the goal is to have the Senate and the House members to go back to their state and if their school districts qualify, to encourage them to participate,” she said. “I was there to offer my perspective from one school district that’s doing it and can say it’s going well. The parents appreciate it, the students are participating and it’s a good fit. I was there to give a testimony that this works.”