Governor convenes child nutrition meeting in Parkrose

Find out why this meeting of local, state and national officials had special meaning to Parkrose educators …

The Principal of Parkrose High School, Ana A. Gonzalez, chats with Governor Ted Kulongoski, as he comes to Parkrose to attend a conference on child nutrition.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Using the Parkrose School District Boardroom as their meeting hall, child nutrition administrators met with Governor Ted Kulongoski, as well as Kevin Concannon – named this year by the Obama administration as the Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services in the United States Department of Agriculture.

Ellen Christensen, food service director for Parkrose School District, set the stage for the November 3 event. “Oregon Hunger Relief contacted Parkrose, asking us to host these meetings. During the day today, the participants will exchange information regarding the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.”

Christensen explained that the programs that fund free or reduced-cost lunches and breakfasts – and in some cases, suppers, too – are funded by the federal Child Nutrition Act, which is going to be reauthorized by Congress within the next six months. “This provides the money we use to feed hungry children in our schools.”

Governor Ted Kulongoski takes a moment to speak with Parkrose School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, before the conference begins.

Youth hunger a local issue
“Many kids in the Parkrose School District rely on food services,” Parkrose School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Karen Fischer Gray, told us before the meeting got under way. “If our students don’t have enough to eat, their minds are not fresh and awake, and they are not able to learn well. We’re very appreciative that Governor Kulongoski thought of East Portland, and thought about Parkrose School District, in convening their conference on student hunger here.”

According to statistics from the National Center for Education, 41% of Oregon children qualified for these programs in 2007.

“Many Parkrose students would have hunger as part of their daily lives, if it weren’t for school lunch programs,” Dr. Gray tells the assembly.

But, in her opening remarks at the conference, Dr. Gray observed, “Nearly 70% of the students in our district are eligible for free or reduced school meals. At one of our schools, Shaver Elementary, 90% of the students qualify. This means a lot of kids are relying on the national breakfast program, national lunch program, and the summer feeding program.”

Oregon’s governor speaks against hunger
In his opening remarks, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski praised partnerships in the state – especially noting the good that’s been done by the Oregon Food Bank.

Flanked by Pacific Representative Allen Ming, and Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, Governor Ted Kulongoski tells the conference that he supports initiatives to reduce hunger in Oregon.

“The director of the Oregon Food Bank is the person who actually who drove me toward supporting this, saying someone should take this issue on and tell the public about how important it is for children and adults to have a nutritious diet,” Kulongoski revealed.

“What I’ve learned, as Governor, on the issue of nutrition – and what I emphasize every year – is that I become more and more convinced that I want to expand the message,” continued Kulongoski.

He added, “I always look at these issues in terms of my own children. One thing that drives me, concerning the nutritional issue, is that I believe we all have a responsibility to see that every child in the State has an opportunity – an equal opportunity – to be everything he can and want to be.”

Governor Kulongoski says his administration plans to provide health care for all children in the state.

“It’s more than just nutrition,” Kulongoski added. “It’s also early childhood education. And, it is about health care. If kids can’t come to school at five years of age, and be healthy and strong, it’s very difficult for them to learn. That’s why I’ve co-partnered with the Healthy Kid Initiative seeking to provide health care to children up to 19 years of age.

“This is just a piece of a larger mosaic that we’re building around children,” Kulongoski went on. “I’m not sure the public understands, fully, how many of the 635,000 to 650,000 people who receive food stamps in Oregon are children. Nor do they understand how many of these kids get a breakfast or a lunch because of these programs. They come to school, hungry. You give them that opportunity to learn, because you are actually providing the food, nutritional food, they need to think and learn.”

After sharing a light moment with the Governor, Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said he’s gathering information regarding the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

In his remarks, Concannon said he was in Oregon to gather information on these school-based feeding programs, including after-school and summer meal programs. “Never in our lifetimes have there been as many needs as there are right now, in terms of these feeding and nutrition programs,” he said.

Oregon officials told Concannon they want to broaden the number of children who are eligible for the after-school and summer meal programs, to reduce paperwork obligations for families and schools, and to increase the reimbursement rate for providing free or reduced meals.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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