Project Bread, the leading statewide anti-hunger organization in Massachusetts, was joined by State Senator Anne Gobi and State Representative Susannah Whipps at Athol-Royalston Middle School on Wednesday, December 6th to celebrate the school’s new Grab & Go Breakfast program. Members of the school committee were also on-hand to observe the breakfast program and to celebrate a successful inaugural year of offering breakfast after the bell. As the event was coming to a close, Project Bread President Erin McAleer presented Senator Gobi with Project Bread’s Hunger Hero Award to recognize her 16 years of unwavering support and commitment to ending hunger in Massachusetts.
Prior to this school year, Athol-Royalston Middle School offered breakfast in the cafeteria before school, reaching just 25% of the student population. At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, the middle school implemented Grab & Go breakfast, a model that allows students to pick up their school breakfast from kiosks in the hallway before school and enjoy the breakfast on their way to class or at their seats during the beginning of class. Since implementing this new model, the school has reached 64% participation, and 250 students are now eating a nutritious breakfast at school each morning compared to 97 students previously.
In September 2017, Carolyn Brown, School Nutrition Director for the Athol-Royalston Regional School District, contacted Rosemarie Caward, an Outreach Coordinator with Project Bread’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program about implementing an alternative breakfast model at the middle school that would expand access to breakfast and boost participation in the program. Caward consulted on this project and helped Brown launch the Grab & Go model, offering breakfast at four kiosks located conveniently throughout the school. In addition to launching Grab & Go Breakfast at Athol-Royalston Middle School, the district started offering Breakfast in the Classroom to students at Athol Community Elementary School in the spring of 2017. The elementary school was able to increase participation from 42% last March to 80% this year, reaching an additional 224 students.
This summer was also the first year that the Athol-Royalston Regional School District served as a sponsor in the Summer Food Service Program, providing meals at no cost to children and teens at eight sites during the summer months. From June 26th to August 11th, the district served 4,997 breakfasts and 6,689 lunches for a total of 11,686 meals. Brown and her team worked with Project Bread to establish the district as a sponsor and coordinate the logistics of operating eight meal sites serving breakfast and lunch.
On Wednesday morning, Senator Gobi and Representative Whipps passed out breakfasts to the students and joined Project Bread in celebrating the district’s commitment to child nutrition programs. “We are so honored that Representative Whipps and Senator Gobi, both strong allies in the fight against hunger, were able to join us this morning,” said Project Bread President Erin McAleer. “I am excited that we were able to present Senator Gobi with Project Bread’s Hunger Hero Award, recognizing her hard work advocating for school meals and child nutrition programs during her tenure at the Statehouse. The work Senator Gobi is doing in the Statehouse helps ensure that students have access to healthy breakfast not only here in Athol and Royalston, but also across the state of Massachusetts.”
Both legislators recently showed their support for school breakfast by signing onto a bill that would expand the public school breakfast program in Massachusetts. This proposed legislation, co-sponsored by State Representative Aaron Vega and State Senator Sal DiDomenico, would require all Massachusetts public K-12 schools with 60% or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins. Offering breakfast as part of the school day is one of the best ways to increase participation in the program and make sure that more students are starting their days off with a healthy meal. Project Bread is a member of Rise and Shine Massachusetts, a coalition of organizations and school districts that support the passage of this important child nutrition legislation.
“I want to thank the Athol-Royalston school district and Project Bread for bringing the importance of nutritious breakfast to students,” said Senator Anne Gobi. “As a former teacher, I know very well that a good breakfast truly is food for the brain. In addition to giving students a good start to their day, this program teaches students about proper nutrition, which has lasting benefits.”
Representative Susannah Whipps of Athol also spoke to the importance of child nutrition programs and nutrition education. “Project Bread has worked in schools throughout the Commonwealth to address food insecurity, as well as working to encourage healthy eating habits,” said State Representative Susannah Whipps. “I’m happy to partner with my legislative colleagues to provide funding for these vital programs.”
For students who do not have the time or household income necessary to eat before arriving at school, school breakfast provides an excellent opportunity to start the day with a healthy morning meal. At Athol-Royalston Middle School, 90% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Since switching to offering breakfast in a way that is more accessible, many more of these students are now starting their days off right with a healthy breakfast, preparing them for a day of learning. “Breakfast fuels kids,” said Superintendent Darcy Fernandez. “It’s just that simple and it makes a difference in the classroom. Ultimately, our kids are more energized, they are able to focus, and they are prepared for a day of learning.”