Sharing at summer meals Expanded program growing in Russellville

Fifth-grader Madalyn Benne grab a second cup of juice from the “share table” at breakfast Tuesday before Russellville Elementary summer school while Anne Brennecke welcomes her to school.

Fifth-grader Madalyn Benne grab a second cup of juice from the “share table” at breakfast Tuesday before Russellville Elementary summer school while Anne Brennecke welcomes her to school. Photo by Michelle Brooks.

RUSSELLVILLE — Third-grader Sarah Swillum set down her banana in an iced bin Tuesday morning before putting away her breakfast tray at Russellville Elementary School.

Fifth-grader Melanie Loesch grabbed a second cup of juice from another iced bin at the “share table” before she sat down to eat before summer school classes began at 8:30 a.m.

Both breakfast during summer school and the “share table” are new to Russellville this season.

Meals during the regular school year and previous summer schools have been funded through the National School Lunch Program.

This program providing both breakfast and lunch is the result of a U.S. Department of Health and Senior Services grant.

The “share table” was a suggestion of the grant, but has been so well-received they may continue it in the fall, said Superintendent Jerry Hobbs.

“You don’t have to eat everything; then, if somebody else wants it, they can have it,” said second-grader Veronika Lyman.

Initially, she put her milk on the “share table,” but then remembered she had cereal and grabbed it again, Lyman said.

The exchange encourages less waste of food and also avoids the financial burden on the school to cover the cost of a full, second tray, Hobbs said.

“It’s cool; it’s like seconds,” said fifth-grader Madalyn Benne.

Students agreed they feel more alert and happy having breakfast before school.

“I feel more awake; my tummy’s happier,” said fourth-grader Zachary Schrader.

Some parents already knew the benefit of breakfast, but still like the idea of the school serving it free this summer.

Shannon Hackett’s kindergartner Allison ate at home and then, after walking to school, ate breakfast with her pre-school class during the previous school year.

“Breakfast is an important meal; it helps so they’re not so hungry before lunch,” Hackett said. “This is a great grant. It helps a lot of families who need it, and it’s better than Pop Tarts.”

To qualify for the health department grant, a school district had to have 50 percent of students qualified for free and reduced meals. Russellville’s percentage was 42 percent.

But Hobbs discovered a second criterion, if the county percent is 55 percent or higher. Cole County is at 55 percent.

This grant program should last five years and serves all youth ages 18 and younger. Adults may eat breakfast for $1.50 and lunch for $2.

On Monday, 73 ate breakfast, and on Tuesday 82 took a tray before school. Hobbs expects numbers to continue to rise as awareness spreads.

Next year, they may expand summer school to three weeks or serve meals through June beyond the school session.

“Any time kids go to class having eaten and are not worried about being hungry, they will perform better,” said Principal Matt Cullum. “They are better off when we can take away distractions.”

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