In Maryland more than 207,000 children are at risk for hunger. The same number of young people are unsupervised during the after-school hours. The child who goes home to an empty house is likely to be the same child who may not have access to food between the end of the school day and the next morning.
Maryland is fortunate to be one of the 13 states (plus the District of Columbia) that has the At-Risk Snack and Supper Program. This program provides federal funds to serve nutritious meals and snacks in after-school programs in areas served by a public school where at least 50 percent of enrolled children are eligible for free or reduced meals. The Snack and Supper Program was implemented this year at more than 40 Family League of Baltimore City funded sites with great results. Programs offering supper have seen increased recruitment, attendance and retention, and parents have expressed appreciation for not having to scramble to feed students after a long day.
In a recent visit to the Higher Achievement Program at Ashburton Elementary/Middle School I saw the supper program in action. Chicken Masala was on the menu (more exotic than the average cafeteria fare) and plates were filled to the brim with many kids coming back for seconds. After dinner, participants moved with enthusiasm into their study halls, elective classes, and then to the community meeting and mentoring sessions. Full bodies and full minds—just the way it should be.
My audacious idea is that we expand the At-Risk Snack and Supper Program by offering high quality after-school programs at every eligible school, church and community center. With more investment in after-school programming, youth who face food insecurity will be served free meals (with federal resources) AND participate in programming that research shows will improve school performance, attendance, and engagement—all key precursors for school completion and ongoing success.