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Food experts from LAUSD, other big districts seeking more federal money

Mike Szymanski | July 27, 2015

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Laura Benevidez

Laura Benevidez

In a new position statement, a coalition of food professionals from the nation’s six largest school districts, including LA Unified, is asking for triple the amount of money now provided per school lunch by the USDA and allowing for more free meals as well as autonomy on how to serve them.

The Urban School Food Alliance, which also includes New York, Chicago, Miami, Orlando and Dallas, recently the team met with politicians from the Senate Agricultural Committee and the First Lady’s office to present their case.

“We are working with a combined total of more than three million meals, so what we have to say should have an impact with Congress,” said LAUSD’s representative Laura Benavidez.

The requests strongly suggested and advocated by the six largest school districts are:

  • Significantly invest in farm economies and children by increasing the USDA food dollars spent by school districts.
  • Expand non-congregate feeding opportunities to increase access to food.
  • Provide meals to children as part of their instructional day by implementing Free Meals for All service.

Each year the United States Department of Agriculture allocates money based on numbers of lunches served the prior year. Currently, the USDA gives almost 25 cents for every lunch served during the previous school year.

The Alliance is asking for an increase to 75 cents per lunch. They say the money will align the food costs more closely with many private schools that spend an average of $3.72 for food at lunch, as opposed to the public school average of $1.20.

“We know it’s a long shot, and it’s hard to get something like this in this political climate,” said Benavidez, who helped draft the report. “But we feel that this is important.”

The second request asks that schools have more autonomy about how they present lunches, so that more students will eat them. Right now, students must eat their meals in supervised settings.

Benavidez explained that some meals could be packaged as brown bag lunches that could be taken off campus or brought home, and it would reduce potential throw-away waste.

The third request simply asks that the meals be offered for free.

“We are changing the image of the school lunches with the cafeteria lady,” said Ellen Morgan, an LAUSD spokeswoman. “Our meals are healthy and delicious.”

The report says, “While in school, children are constantly learning, and we believe that we can offer them important lessons through the food they eat.”

The alliance pointed out, “In our public schools, we do not give free textbooks to children below the poverty line while requiring their wealthier classmates to purchase the books. Similarly, if you are one of our children, you should be able to receive free meals so that the experience with food becomes the lesson and the menu becomes the curriculum.”

Benavidez is the co-director of Food Services for LAUSD, which provides more than 127.8 million breakfast, lunch, snacks and supper meals to more than 600,000 students each year.

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