“For every 100 free and reduced lunches served [at schools] only 4.8 afterschool meals are served. So, there is a huge gap in terms of the kids that are eligible and in need, and then the delivery of these afterschool meals for those kids,” Matt Pakula, senior manager of corporate social responsibility at Tyson Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“But,” he added, “a lot of schools can help meet that gap” with assistance from the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which about six years ago launched funding for afterschool meal programs at schools.
Since that launch, the number of children eating afterschool meals has quadrupled, according to No Kid Hungry, but there is still a long way to go, according to Pakula.
He explained that “there are some hurdles” that schools must overcome before they can qualify for reimbursement, such as to serve afterschool meals half the students must be eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, the schools must offer supervised afterschool programming and the meals must be free without requiring enrollment or eligibility information.
For some schools, this means implementing a “a whole new program that comes with regulations and paperwork, and additional labor becomes a challenge” in terms of who preps and serves the meals and who supervises the children, and that can be intimidating, acknowledged Gena Johnson Bumgarner, vice president of K-12 at Tyson Foods.
Pakula added, though, “as schools start to understand the amount of funding that is available to them for these programs from CACFP, I think they will start to see that if they do take the initial steps to get over these barriers to deliver afterschool meals, they can really help the kids a lot.”
Funding from CACFP also can help schools cover the cost of supplies, equipment upgrades and administrative costs associated with the meal programs, according to No Kid Hungry and Tyson Foods.
They note that in 2016 two geographically diverse school districts were able to bring in more money by adding an afterschool program. One district offered cold supper at the cost of $2 per meal but the reimbursement plus commodity covered $3.46 per meal, leaving the district with an additional $1.05. Another district served a hot supper for $1.16 per meal at the same reimbursement rate, leaving it with an additional $2.07 to cover other costs.
For districts that need more than the promise of budget relief to get a program off the ground, Tyson Foods is willing to work with them to maximize the number of schools that can provide meals and programming to children.
Tyson Foods shares best practices to help schools launch programs
Based on Tyson Foods’ experience working with No Kid Hungry to help seed afterschool feeding programs through 22 grants, Pakula and Johnson Bumgarner have collected several best practices.
One of the most influential ones that Johnson Bumgarner says Tyson helped develop with No Kid Hungry is an “umbrella model.”
She explains, “The umbrella model helps boost participation by bringing together children who are participating in different activities throughout the school,” and students who are not participating in programming but who are under the age of 18, all under an 'umbrella' of the afterschool feeding program.
The model, which was tested in the fall of 2015, saw a median increase in participation of 53% at schools where historical data was available. Of all the pilot schools, participation was 45% higher than was predicted for the ‘closed model’ that only provided meals to students in activities.
Johnson Bumgarner also noted that districts can boost participation by looking at their districts holistically to maximize the number of schools that qualify for the funding. For example, she said that while schools must meet a threshold of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches in order to gain funding there is a caveat. If a school does not meet this threshold, but shares a boundary with a school that does, then it could qualify for the funds, she explained.
Other best practices include:
- Offer meals at various points in the school, rather than a central location such as the cafeteria, so that students who are participating in activities do not miss out on the meal, Johnson Bumgarner said. If possible, she added, have the meals delivered to students individually.
- Track attendance through a sign-in sheet or electronic point-of-service system by students’ names to capture everyone who eats, and not just those who participate in an activity.
- Meet with other districts nearby that offer afterschool meals to share other best practices, and share first hand experiences.
- Stagger the start times of kitchen staff so that more time is covered more efficiently.
- Select meals that are less labor intensive, such as grab-and-go sandwiches that meet the program’s need, but do not take as long to prep and serve.
In addition to helping schools feed more children, Tyson Foods’ efforts make business sense. It predicts that by working alongside No Kid Hungry it will serve 648,000 meals this school year and that will climb to 1 million by the end of the 2019/2020 school year.