National Nutrition Month: School districts work to combat student hunger

By Megan Wehring 

HAYS COUNTY – One in four Texas children face hunger, meaning that they can’t always receive nutritious meals at home and arrive at school with an empty stomach.

Those children also live in a food-insecure household and for many, the breakfast and lunch served at school are sometimes the only consistent food they receive on a daily basis. School districts and statewide organizations are working to combat this by providing resources that will help students succeed. 

“Breakfast is really powerful for kids,” said Mia Medina, program manager for No Kid Hungry Texas, “because research shows that kids who eat breakfast are more focused. They achieve higher scores on tests, they are less sick, for example, and they miss less school days. All of those combined just means that kids have a better opportunity to graduate and reach their full potential.”

What local school districts offer

Currently, HCISD and Dripping Springs ISD (DSISD) students have the opportunity to receive breakfast and lunch through the district through the Seamless Summer Option program, which has been extended until June through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“During a regular school year,”said Erin Echternach, assistant general manager of child nutrition at Hays CISD, “when we operate the National School Lunch Program, free and reduced price meal applications are sent to every student’s household and the application is also available online for parents to fill out.  This allows every household, even the homes without internet access, the opportunity to fill out an application to receive free and reduced price meals.”

Since HCISD has operated the Seamless Summer Option program during the pandemic, the district has seen more students who eat both breakfast and lunch at school, according to Echternach. The district would likely see a drop in these numbers if federal funding for the free school meals is no longer available. 

HaysHope2Go is another program that HCISD offers to supplement nutrition for students during weekends and holidays when they are not in school, as well as provide families with weekly groceries. The Clothes Closet, which provides clothing to students, is also a part of this program.

“We have the largest amount of enrollment right now [with]almost 20,000 students and our program grew some more with weekend bags,” said Esperanza Orosco, operator of HaysHope2Go. “We started off doing 75 weekend bags a week. We are now doing about 265 weekend bags a week and we deliver to over 15 campuses in our district.”

The district recognized the need for this type of program, especially since many parents lost their jobs during the pandemic and the increase in the homeless population, Orosco explained. 

“We want to make sure to remove barriers for our families and students,” Orosco said. “We want them to concentrate on academics and making sure they have every chance to succeed. They can’t do that if they are hungry. They can’t do that if they don’t have clothes.”

For more information about these programs and what school districts offer their students, please reference the following links. 

• HaysHope2Go: https://www.hayscisd.net/hayshope2go 

• Hays CISD Clothes Closet: https://www.hayscisd.net/clothes 

• HCISD Nutrition: https://www.hayscisd.net/childnutrition 

• DSISD Nutrition: https://www.dsisdtx.us/Page/473

• No Kid Hungry Texas: https://state.nokidhungry.org/texas/ 

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About Author

Megan Navarro (Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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