Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feeding Frenzy-Not!

In today's NY Times the paper reports on the declining food stores at the area's food pantries. The declines mean that there will be a serious food shortage for those poor folks who often are forced to rely on the pantries to mitigate their hunger. As the Times says; "At the Campaign Against Hunger pantry in Brooklyn, which is usually a hub of activity as visitors catch up with one another on the latest gossip, fewer people are showing up since word got out that the cupboards were running bare. On one day, the middle aisle held 13 cans of corned beef, a single jar of peanut butter and a few hundred cans of spaghetti in sauce. The canned and fresh fruit were gone."

What this means is that more people, but especially kids, are likely to go hungry this winter-and it also puts the onus on the school breakfast program to fill in the breach. As we have reported, the city's school breakfast is only being accessed by around 29% of the eligible children-which puts NYC second to last among major cities.

The Health Corps has been working with the DOE in trying to establish an in-class breakfast program, the kind that has been successfully implemented elsewhere. In Newark, for instance, participation rates skyrocketed to over 90% once the eating venue was changed. The city has around 680,000 eligible children, and if the rates are raised it will mean the improvement of school functioning for kids who are often eating poorly and thus physically ill-prepared to do well in school.

The challenge ahead is to devise the kind of pilot program that both provides a nutritious first meal, and maximizes the breakfast participation rate. In our view, the experimentation here needs to involve the creative input of the private sector. The role of government is more effective steering and not rowing.