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More Free Lunches: Virginia Fights Child Hunger

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Susan Dubois speaks with volunteers and chefs at Barcroft Elementary's healthy eating event Tuesday.
Armando Trull
Susan Dubois speaks with volunteers and chefs at Barcroft Elementary's healthy eating event Tuesday.

During lunch time at the Barcroft Elementary Cafeteria, no kids are going hungry. But come summer, several hundred thousand Virginia youngsters may lose access to these healthy meals. That's because about 80 percent of children eligible for free lunches don't participate over the summer, says Susan Dubois, the president of Barcroft Elementary's PTA.

“We have an economically and ethnically diverse school, and there's a gap in the summer where the kids aren't getting the meals that provide them with the nutrition they need on a daily basis," Dubois says.

McDonnell says the No Kid Hungry Campaign will address that problem by increasing access to free summer lunches "from after school programs, or snack programs through food banks so that more kids can have that food at home.

"The reality is that child hunger is not just an educational issue or a health issue," continues McDonnell. "It's a moral issue," he says.

The USDA will fund the program, but corporations like Sodexo, Walmart and Kaiser Permanente as well as nonprofits will participate, says Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks.

"Child hunger affects many in our community, and schools food banks are on the front lines in this fight," she says. "Our hope is that every Virginian won't have to worry about where they'll get their next meal."

Actor Jeff Bridges agrees. He is working with the No Kid Hungry as a national spokesperson, and he visited students at Barcroft Tuesday to stress the importance of getting enough to eat.

"One in four of our kids are hungry in this country, and it doesn't have to be that way," he says. "We have enough food, we know how to end it."

"Our children are hungry because we have lacked the big-picture strategy to connect them to the healthy food they need to grow and strive," Bridges adds.

Beginning this summer, hundreds of sites across Virginia will offer free lunches for low-income children and teens. A similar program in Maryland helped 5,000 additional children get daily meals over the summer. The No Kids Hungry initiative will continue year-round.

Anyone in Virginia can call 211 to find out where to sign up for the free summer lunches.

Jeff Bridges explains why he cares about child hunger:

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