Cities Combating Hunger Through Afterschool Meals Programs

With support from the Walmart Foundation, NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families is working with the Food Research and Action Center to help cities reduce child hunger and supplement current funding for out-of-school time programs in their communities by increasing participation in the federal Afterschool Meal Program.

As part of this $1 million initiative, NLC selected 21 cities to attend two Combating Child Hunger through the Federal Afterschool Meal Program (CHAMP) leadership academies that took place May 2-3 in Washington, D.C., and May 22-23 in Chicago, Ill.

Teams of up to three municipal officials and local partners from each city attended the leadership academy to learn about practical strategies for helping more children receive federally-funded meals after school and on weekends through the expanded Afterschool Meal Program. The selected cities were: Anchorage, Alaska; Boise, Idaho; Bridgeport, Conn.; Brooklyn Park, Minn.; Charleston, S.C.; Charlottesville, Va.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Fort Worth, Texas; Grenada, Miss.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Little Rock, Ark.; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; Northfield, Minn.; Omaha, Neb.; Orlando, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; Rapid City, S.D.; and Tampa, Fla.

Following these convenings, 11 cities were selected to receive regranted funding from the Walmart Foundation, as well as more intensive technical assistance from NLC and FRAC to boost program participation. As part of the initiative, the following cities will receive grants of up to $60,000 and practical guidance as they take steps to increase children's participation in the federal Afterschool Meal Program: Boise, Idaho; Bridgeport, Conn.; Charlottesville, Va.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Nashville, Tenn.; Northfield, Minn.; Omaha, Neb.; Orlando, Fla.; and Tampa, Fla.

How Can the Afterschool Meal Program Reduce Child Hunger?

The federal Afterschool Meal Program reimburses city agencies, schools and nonprofit organizations that provide nutritious meals at their afterschool and weekend programs for children and youth. Passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in December 2010 made this program available in all 50 states following a successful 13-state pilot project.

Afterschool programs can receive this federal funding if they have an educational or enrichment component and are located in an area in which at least 50 percent of the children are qualified for free and reduced-price school meals. Unlike most federal programs, funding amounts are not capped by annual appropriations. Meal costs up to approved levels are reimbursed for all children who meet the program's eligibility requirements, but communities that do not participate in the program miss out on the chance to claim these funds and bring them into their local economies.

The expansion of this program comes at a time of enormous need for our cities' families. Nearly one quarter of all American families with children suffered from food hardship - lacking enough money to buy adequate food - at some point over the past year. Food insecurity has long-term impacts on children's educational achievement and development and, paradoxically, is linked with childhood obesity as families who are struggling to make ends meet can only afford to buy cheaper foods with limited nutritional value.

The Afterschool Meal Program can help combat hunger and obesity, which affects millions of disadvantaged children who rely on school breakfasts and lunches but lack access to healthy meals outside of school. The program reinforces in-school learning gains in two ways: meeting children's nutritional needs so they can pay more attention in school and drawing them to high-quality out-of-school time programs that have an educational component. It also enables afterschool providers that already serve meals to spend their limited funds on programming rather than food.

"Municipal leaders have seen the troubling rise in hunger and poverty throughout the recession, and they know how important it is to expand afterschool opportunities and bring every possible federal dollar back into their local communities," said Donald J. Borut, NLC's executive director. "NLC thanks the Walmart Foundation for its commitment to ending hunger in America's cities and towns by promoting well-designed and cost-effective strategies like the Afterschool Meal Program."

What Role Can Cities Play?

While the Afterschool Meal Program has the potential to close the nutrition gap for children and youth in cities nationwide, many afterschool providers are unaware that they can receive federal reimbursement for providing nutritious meals or lack the financial or administrative capacity to complete the application process.

Mayors and other city officials are in a unique position to help public and nonprofit afterschool providers take advantage of this opportunity. In recent years, municipal officials have provided invaluable leadership to the creation of citywide systems of afterschool programming as well as local outreach campaigns to expand awareness of and access to vital federal nutrition programs. Cities can also serve as a sponsor of the Afterschool Meal Program on behalf of multiple afterschool providers.

The new project will draw upon the YEF Institute's deep experience supporting city efforts that connect their residents with federal benefits and improve local afterschool programs, as well as FRAC's expertise in advancing best practices and policies for reducing hunger in communities across the country.

How Can the Leadership Academies Help?

Leadership academies offer structured learning opportunities focused on specific topics and bring together teams of local elected officials, senior municipal staff and other stakeholders to discuss opportunities for collaborative action. National experts and city leaders who have launched innovative local approaches serve as panelists, trainers and facilitators. City teams return home with new ideas, strategies and inspiration to take action on behalf of children and families.

The selected cities were chosen to participate in the leadership academies based on evidence of high-level municipal leadership and commitment to increasing the number of children receiving nutritious meals after school; collaboration among city, school and community agencies; and a clear indication of how cities plan to use the leadership academy to advance local efforts.

The cities selected to participate will be encouraged to set specific local targets for increasing afterschool meals participation and to develop a strategy for working with afterschool providers to achieve those goals.

In addition, as part of the one-year project, eleven cities have been selected to receive regranted funding and more intensive assistance to boost program participation in their communities. NLC and FRAC will provide these cities with customized assistance, access to best practices and national experts and opportunities for peer learning and exchange as they develop strategic approaches for increasing utilization of the Afterschool Meal Program.

For more information about the CHAMP initiative, please contact Imani Hope at (202) 626-3180 or ihope@nlc.org.