A Faulkner County health expert plans to speak Thursday at an event which spotlights childhood hunger in Arkansas, and promotes starting and expanding after-school programs to fight it.

Lori Dather, health and wellness program manager at Midwest Dairy Council in Conway, will be a presenter and attendee at a summit focused on after-school programs that fight childhood hunger. The summit, "Eliminating Hunger After School: The Opportunity for Statewide Expansion of the Afterschool Meal Program," will be held 8-3:15 p.m. Thursday at Bishop Leodies and Goldie Warren Family Life Center at 1200 Bishop Warren Drive in Little Rock.

Dather has been a registered dietitian for 20 years and has worked in all areas of dietetics, including clinical management and consulting, according to Midwest Dairy Association’s website.

The event is hosted by several groups, including the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and Food Research and Action Center.

It is the first time the alliance has put together a summit like this, said alliance spokeswoman Nancy Conley.

"Whether you are interested in applying to the program for the first time or you are ready to expand and improve the current operation of your after-school meals program, we can all benefit from learning about the experiences and best practices from programs throughout the state as we work towards expanding the Afterschool Meal Program statewide," according to the alliance’s Facebook page.

Hunger remains a problem in Faulkner County, where about 49 percent of schoolchildren in the district are on free or reduced lunches, according to Conway Public Schools records. Statewide, childhood poverty rate is at 28.1 percent compared to the national average of 22.5 percent, according to the hunger alliance news release. From 2009 to 2011, Arkansas ranked first in the nation for the most incidence of food insecurity.

Extending the reach of the "Afterschool Meal Program" to all eligible communities throughout the state will mean children can participate fully in after-school activities and receive nutrition they need, but can’t get outside of school, according to the release.

Besides Dather, other speakers are planned for the summit, including a lunchtime keynote address from Harriett Phillips from Gov. Mike Beebe’s office. Audrey Rowe, administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will serve as a panelist during the summit. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Southwest Regional Administrator Bill Ludwig will also be attending the summit, Conley said.

The summit is important because a lot of schoolchildren only eat during school, Conley said. Out-of-school programs give children a place for a meal and snack during holiday breaks or when schools are otherwise closed, she said.

"We just don’t want to leave any kids out," Conley said.

State and regional program administrators and advocacy organizations will present best practices and strategies for implementation and expansion of the "Afterschool Meal Program," according to the release.

Conley said space is still available, and people can register online. For more information, visit the alliance’s page on Facebook or visit http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5118/p/salsa/event/common/public/?event_KEY=50807