Food for school

The US agriculture department now also feeds impoverished school children during the holidays. Roelof Bezuidenhout discusses what South Africa is doing for its 14 million hungry citizens.

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One of the less-publicised side effects of the recent trade union strike is that thousands of impoverished school children, whose only meals are the daily serving of bread and soup they get at school, went hungry for several weeks.In contrast to this sad state of affairs is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) campaign to reduce hunger and improve nutrition among children in the US during school holidays.

The USDA’s food scheme is run by the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), with funding provided by the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2010.

The USDA was given around US million (around R603 million) to develop and test alternative ways to provide food for low-income children in urban and rural areas in the summer months, when schools aren’t in session.In Arkansas, for example, more than 350 000 children eat school lunches in the school year, but less than 18 000 participate in summer meal programmes, so the new summer pilot project will fund sponsors that operate SFSP meal sites for at least 40 days in the summer. And an additional US,50 (around R3,60) reimbursement will be given for each lunch served at sites that are open for this length of time or longer as an added incentive so that programmes reach more children.

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The Obama administration proposed an investment of a further US billion (about R71 billion) over 10 years, starting in 2011, to improve the quality of the nutrition-assistance programmes, increase the number of children benefiting from them, and ensure that schools have the resources they need to train school food-service workers and upgrade kitchen equipment. This investment will also fund meal reimbursements for schools that are enhancing nutrition and quality.
Taking cues from the Americans
South Africa’s hope for feeding some of the country’s 14 million hungry rests with a non-profit organisation that has been running since 2009 – FoodBank SA. The organisation, which forms part of the Global Food Network, is run on private sector lines but is supported by government.FoodBank SA managing director Jeroen de Lijster says the organisation operates food banks in four of South Africa’s main cities – Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. The organisation’s goal is to launch a minimum of 20 food banks by 2011. “We’re already supporting 900 agencies – mainly schools, old-age homes, and HIV clinics – and we’re helping 100 000 beneficiaries,” he says.

Staple nourishment

FoodBank SA is securing business partnerships with manufacturers, producers and farmers to streamline food supplies to the needy. De Lijster says, “Buying the food as close as possible to source would make supplies more cost-effective and sustainable. And proactive negotiations with big business and farmers will focus more on buying food in bulk rather than merely waiting for good-quality surplus food that would otherwise be discarded”.

He says FoodBank SA’s new strategy is to ensure community food banks are well stocked with staple foods, such as sugar, samp and maize. “This also presents added incentive to companies, that while helping South Africa’s only national food-banking system procure food, they’re also improving their sales,” he said.

While FoodBank SA buys in much of the food, financial donations are necessary to move the food to where it’s most needed. De Lijster says every R1 received enables the food banks to use donated food worth R12 and more. “Last year we provided a total of 15,5 million meals at 60c a meal,” he said.

Unused food is regularly collected from supermarkets and stadiums. Recently, the organisation also received 20t of surplus onions from a co-op in Oudtshoorn. Meanwhile, in the US, it’s not only farmers and businesses that help. The Hunters Sharing the Harvest Programme encourages hunters in Pennsylvania to donate deer for processing into ground venison for malnourished citizens.

Hunters can take their deer to one of nearly 80 participating meat processors. If the entire deer is donated, the hunter is asked to make a small tax-deductible contribution to help cover processing costs. The programme provides over 200 000 meals to food banks, churches and social services feeding programmes every year.