Almost 700 California public schools, including several in Merced and Mariposa counties, will be awarded more than $16 million to ensure more low-income students receive nutritious food prepared with modern equipment, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Tuesday.
“School can be one of the few places where children from low-income families may receive a healthy meal,” Torlakson said. “These grants will not only help upgrade some equipment in school kitchens, but will also go to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to students in need.”
The Mariposa County Unified School District is getting $15,000 for its “Grab and Go” breakfast program benefiting Woodland Elementary School near Mariposa.
Robin Hopper, Mariposa County superintendent of schools, said many students endure long bus rides to get to school and may be dropped off at school only minutes before classes begin. Students, many of whom haven’t had a chance to eat at home, will be able to grab a prepared breakfast.
The state grant will enable the district to purchase the carts to transport the meals and additional staffing. Hopper said the program has been successful at Mariposa Elementary School, Mariposa County High School and Lake Don Pedro School.
Hilmar Unified School District Superintendent Isabel Cabral-Johnson said the district is receiving $20,000 to defray about 75 percent of the cost of a new walk-in refrigerator-freezer. It will be placed at a school site that’s the farthest from the central kitchen. The district applied for the grant in May.
Torlakson said research shows there is a clear connection between good health and learning. Healthy children miss fewer days of school, are more academically successful, more attentive and well-behaved, and more likely to graduate from high school and go to college.
That’s why Torlakson started his Team California for Healthy Kids initiative designed to help children be more physically active, eat nourishing food and drink plenty of water all day.
El Nido Elementary School will receive $6,480 to buy kitchen equipment and the Livingston Union School District will get $3,315 for programs to provide fresh produce and snacks at Selma Herndon Elementary School and $2,850 for Campus Park Elementary School.
No representatives of El Nido or Livingston schools could be reached for comment about their grants.
In the latest round of funding, more than $16 million in awards were distributed to 649 schools through three programs: the School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Service Program Start-up or Expansion Grant, the 2013 National School Lunch Program Equipment Assistance Grant, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program grant.
In the School Breakfast Program, 77 school sites were collectively awarded more than $1 million. Funds must be used to start or expand an existing School Breakfast Program serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, or a Summer Food Service Program serving those 18 years of age and under during school breaks.
To qualify for this grant, at least 20 percent of a local educational agency’s student enrollment must be low-income.
In the Equipment Assistance Grant, 205 grantees will receive $3.05 million in funding. This grant will allow school food authorities to purchase the equipment needed to serve healthier meals, meet new nutritional standards with an emphasis on more fresh fruits and vegetables, improve food safety and expand access to students. Priority was given to those schools with more low-income students and that have not previously been awarded equipment grants.
In the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, 367 grantees will share $11.98 million in funding. Funds must be used by elementary schools to provide students with free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks during the day, as a supplement to the school breakfast and lunch programs, and to teach students about good nutrition. Priority was given to sites where half or more of the student population is eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
Modesto Bee staff writer Nan Austin contributed to this report.