Story by Chris Graham
While area school districts have experienced a spike in enrollment in the free- and reduced-price lunch program, the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has seen an equally sharp rise in its own child-hunger programs.
The Food Bank provides nutritious meals and snacks to more than 8,600 students enrolled in its four after-school feeding programs, double the amount in 2006. Through the BackPack Program, Operation Angel Food, Kids Cafe and Kids CanTeen, the Food Bank provides healthy snacks and meals to preschool and elementary school children when they don’t have access to school breakfast and lunch programs.
Nationally, the amount of students receiving free and reduced-price school meals is on the rise. Enrollment increases in the National School Lunch Program typically hover around 1 to 2 percent each year, but this year, there’s been a 5 percent jump in participation because of the recent recession. In Virginia, more than 36,000 additional children became eligible for the program between 2008 and 2009, a 2.5 percent increase.
Most school systems in the Central Shenandoah Valley have experienced significant participation increases in the National School Lunch Program as well, an indicator that more area families are facing economic strain. According to the Virginia Department of Education, the highest enrollment increases in the region have been in Waynesboro (5.27 percent); Harrisonburg (4.24 percent) and Rockbridge County (4.21 percent).
The Food Bank operates and finances all four of the aforementioned after-school feeding programs in the Central Shenandoah Valley at 65 sites, and has distributed $165,200 worth of food to children this year. The programs are funded entirely with private donations.
“School administrators are working hard to meet the needs of children when they are in school,” said Lawrence Zippin, the Food Bank’s CEO. “We are doing all we can to ensure children have access to nutritious food after school.”
To help the Food Bank in its efforts to provide nutritious food options to local children in these programs, visit www.brafb.org and donate online, or send your contribution to: Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, PO Box 937, Verona, Va. 24482.