Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently declared March as School Breakfast Month in Arkansas.
"I was able to go to the National Governor’s Association and talk about the fact that the child food insecurity rate in Arkansas declined 2.1 percent in 2016," Hutchinson said in a news release. "Arkansas now ranks seventh in the nation of students participating in programs, and almost one half of our schools participate in Breakfast After the Bell programs."
The release stated that research has shown that students who eat breakfast do better in school and have fewer behavioral issues, health problems and absences during the year and went on to read that since 2010, the Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign stakeholders have focused on helping schools in the state increase breakfast participation by adopting the program, totaling around 500 taking on the campaign, and other initiates to combat the issue.
Conway School District’s school breakfast program — which became a permanent fixture in 1975 — according to Food Services Director Sharon Burgess, is one of those and operates similar to the National School Lunch Program, following strict federal guidelines and specific meal pattern and nutrition standards.
She said they serve breakfast at all 16 schools — serving approximately 30 percent of students — before the start of the school day and is always looking for new ways to expand the breakfast options.
"I have a great staff who really care and always embrace opportunities in which we can better serve the students," Burgess said.
The program, she said, was originally started to make sure students in need were provided with adequate nutrition.
"Breakfast is so important because it provides the vital nutrients and energy children need to perform physically and mentally," Burgess said. "Children who eat breakfast are better prepared and better able to learn."
The issue is so important, the district has started to take care of the need outside of school.
"Last December, the food service staff wanted to do something to give back to the students," Burgess said. "We identified the need to make sure our most vulnerable students had access to nutritious foods for breakfast while we were on Christmas Break."
She said they started asking for donations to start the Breakfast Bag Project, and in two weeks, they collected more than $10,000.00, which enabled them to send home breakfast — each child received milk, juice, fresh fruit and other breakfast items — for 500 students during the break with enough items for a 10 meals.
Because of the enormous generosity of the community, Burgess said they have enough money to repeat the breakfast project for Spring Break and are able to send home the same nutritious foods enough for five breakfast meals for 500 students.
"It’s been an amazing project," Burgess said. "I think we are always challenged with trying to find ways to better serve our students and to make a difference in their lives. The Breakfast Bag Project is something I believe does just that. It is an amazing project that has received enormous support from our community. We are truly blessed."
Communication Specialist Heather Kendrick said the entire program helps students concentrate on learning rather than focuses on what isn’t in their stomach.
"This is such an important issue for our students and we are proud that we can provide breakfast these kiddos," she said.