NLC's Combating Child Hunger through Afterschool Meal Programs - or CHAMP - initiative is now in full swing.
Out of a pool of 40 applicants, 21 city teams were selected to attend two regional leadership academies in May - one held in Washington, D.C., the other in Chicago - to learn how they can reduce child hunger in their communities by expanding participation in the federal Afterschool Meal Program.
Teams included local elected officials, city staff - including many from parks and recreation departments - and partners from local afterschool programs and anti-hunger groups. NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families hosted the convenings in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), with support from the Walmart Foundation.
"In Charlottesville, we already really care about child hunger, but now, with the expansion of afterschool meals, we can do more," said Charlottesville, Va., Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos, who attended the leadership academy with representatives of the local school district and parks and recreation department.
City teams received an in-depth primer on the nuts and bolts of the Afterschool Meal Program from U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives, FRAC policy experts, other anti-hunger advocates, and experienced practitioners representing school districts, state agencies and community organizations.
By increasing participation in this federal program, which reimburses afterschool providers that offer educational programming and healthy foods to children and youth in low-income areas, the CHAMP initiative addresses a critical need in our nation's cities. Millions of additional families now struggle to put food on the table compared with five years ago, which may have a harmful effect on their children's development and educational attainment as well as childhood obesity rates. The Afterschool Meal Program not only helps families stretch limited food budgets and ensure their children receive adequate nutrition, but also encourages participation in high-quality out-of-school time programming.
Strategies for Expanding Access to Afterschool Meals
There is often a perception that federally-funded programs can be overly burdensome to administer. Many out-of-school time providers do not take advantage of the Afterschool Meal Program due to lack of awareness about the program or lack of financial or administrative capacity to complete the application process. City leaders - particularly those who lead citywide afterschool systems - are in a unique position to reach out to multiple afterschool providers and sponsor the Afterschool Meal Program on their behalf.
At the leadership academies, city teams heard from local leaders in other communities who currently administer the program successfully. These local experts recommended that participants work closely with relevant state agencies to understand regulations and program requirements, and also partner with local food banks and community organizations that already have deep experience managing child nutrition programs. Leadership academy participants also gained ideas for spearheading outreach and awareness campaigns in partnership with statewide anti-hunger organizations.
Before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 expanded the Afterschool Meal Program to all states, many cities were already working hard to provide snacks and meals at afterschool and summer programs. For example, the City of Boise, Idaho, funds a Mobile Recreation Program where municipal staff travel to Title One elementary schools and low-income apartment complexes to provide recreation programming, along with healthy snacks and a peer-reviewed nutrition curriculum. A number of cities plan to draw upon the partnerships they have developed in the course of creating citywide afterschool systems as well as this new federal funding opportunity to expand access to healthy meals and snacks at high-quality afterschool enrichment programs.
At the end of the leadership academies, city teams outlined long-term goals for addressing child hunger and immediate action steps to take upon returning home.
"The leadership academy helped bring all the pieces together for us," said Vice Mayor Szakos. "We're leaving equipped with some concrete action steps and a plan for how we can begin to get the word out in the community and begin to build a structure to allow all kids in the city who need it to have access to afterschool meals."
During the second phase of the CHAMP initiative, cities that have participated in one of the leadership academies or a separate project on afterschool system building funded by The Wallace Foundation will be invited to apply for funding to increase utilization of the Afterschool Meal Program and receive customized assistance from NLC and FRAC. Up to nine cities and up to six state and local anti-hunger groups will be selected to receive grant funding of up to $60,000 per award.