SWVA students get meal plan support, still in need of more

Published: Oct. 17, 2017 at 9:32 PM EDT
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Students in Virginia are going hungry, according to recent polling done by No Kid Hungry. One in six kids are in families struggling with hunger, but one company announced Tuesday they want to help Southwest Virginia.

Islamic Relief USA in Alexandria gave a $100,000 grant to No Kid Hungry Virginia to be used exclusively in Southwest Virginia schools. The grant is expected to benefit about 45,153 children, the organization said.

"Several studies over the years have shown strong correlations between eating healthfully and academic performance," said Anwar Khan, president of Islamic Relief USA. "We want to make sure children, particularly from underprivileged backgrounds, enjoy the same access to high quality food as their peers. Every child is precious."

According to the polling, people around Virginia believe childhood hunger is a problem. But those numbers are highest in Southwest Virginia.

Claire Mansfield is the State Director of No Kid Hungry Virginia.

She explained, "When these children go to school, these are the only meals that they might receive. So maybe this lunch at school may be the only meal that they receive until lunch the next day."

In fact, five of the most food insecure counties in the Commonwealth are in Southwest Virginia, Buchanan, Dickinson, Lee, Wise and Grayson counties.

Superintendent of Grayson County Public Schools Kelly Wilmore said, "We have a lot of grandparents that are raising children, we have more homeless children that are classified as homeless than what you would think, we also have a lot of parents who work two or three jobs."

Wilmore said they recently launched a supper program at one school. They also have a program for early in the day that he'd like to expand to all schools

"One thing we're looking at is we have some grab and go bag lunches for students who may not want to sit down and eat traditional breakfast, they may just want something different," he said.

Mansfield said breakfast after the bell or after school starts is a program, in that grab and go setting, that they recommend most.

With grant money, like the $100,000 announced Tuesday, any school in the region can ask for a piece.

"Reach out to us, let us know that you're interested in setting up these alternative breakfasts or after school meal or Summer meal programs, we're here to help, that's literally our job and what we do all day," Mansfield said.

Wilmore said he will definitely be reaching out.

He also said there's a concern over the federal budget that after school activities, including that supper meal, for students could be cut. So it's huge, he said if companies want to donate to make up what could be lost pretty soon.

Of the $100,000, $60,000 will go to the Southwest Regional Associate, $20,000 toward after school grants, $15,000 toward breakfast grants, and $5,000 toward summer grants. The grants will help provide technical support, raise awareness, and strengthen partnerships.

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