U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will participate in an event to raise awareness of the impact of food insecurity on learning on Thursday, Sept. 26, on the plaza at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. In conjunction with the national nonprofit Blessings in a Backpack organization, the Department will co-host a hunger awareness event in which Duncan will help load up 1,000 backpacks with food that will be given to students on Fridays to take home for the weekend. Economically disadvantaged students across the country who qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program are eligible to receive a backpack. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and other members of Congress also will participate, as well as Sam Kass, executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and White House senior policy advisor for nutrition policy; Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth; Kevin Concannon, under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); and Brooke Wiseman, CEO of Blessings in a Backpack.
“When children are hungry, they can’t concentrate. Food insecurity has a definite impact on learning,” Duncan said. “The Blessings in a Backpack organization is helping to ensure that more than 60,000 kids who receive backpacks of food for the weekend don’t come to school hungry on Mondays.”
For many students, returning to the classroom this fall meant the return of steady meals. Nearly 20 million public school students receive free or reduced-price meals through the federally-funded National School Lunch Program, according to USDA that administers the program. With strong ties between nutrition and academic achievement, ensuring that no child goes hungry is especially critical during the school year.
Increasingly, the U.S. Department of Education and USDA have worked together to streamline access to food for vulnerable student populations such as those who are homeless or unaccompanied, migrant and in foster care. There are more than a million homeless students in public schools, and the Department’s National Center for Homeless Education provides technical assistance on accessing food for homeless and highly mobile students. Information can be found at http://center.serve.org/nche/downloads/briefs/nutrition.pdf.