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Good afternoon on this lovely Saturday in January! I’m Jessica, Voices’ new communications manager. I just wanted to introduce myself and share a childhood memory that complements Polly’s latest post. From time to time, the Voices staff and our supporters will share memories and lessons from childhood on the Voices Today blog. These posts may stir up childhood memories of your own (please share!) and give us all the opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have influenced our lives.

Whenever I eat fresh parsley I’m immediately transported back in time to my nanny and grandpa’s mint green kitchen. They were old-fashioned folks who grew much of their own produce in their suburban backyard. They spent hours in the garden and hours in the kitchen. They rarely cooked anything from a box.

I remember picking parsley with my grandpa and can still taste the delicious cauliflower cakes, cucumber salad and lima beans my grandma served on their formica table. Because of these positive food experiences, I have an appreciation for fresh food. I also recognize the challenge of eating healthy in our modern society. If I wrestle with purchasing a three-dollar red pepper, it’s completely understandable why someone at or below the poverty level would pass.

With 57 percent of Georgia’s children eligible for free and reduced school lunches, it’s important that we advocate for fresh foods in schools that will help them develop positive food habits to reflect on and carry into adulthood. To some children, the school cafeteria is their grandparents’ garden…

Today I heard that more than 57% of Georgia’s kids are eligible for free and reduced lunches in public schools. According to statistics on the StateMaster website, Georgia places fifth in the nation in number of eligible kids. While there has been a decrease in students lined up for the reduced lunch (137,133 last year to 111,793 this year), the number of kids eligible for free lunch has soared, increasing by more than 52,000 kids in just one year (up to 850,248 from 797,772). Of those eligible, about 76% enroll.

Think about the need here, and then extrapolate the need for some of those same kids on evenings and weekends, not to mention over the summer, where there may be few food programs to help them and their families. Think about how hard it is to concentrate on school work when your stomach is growling, or think about how much of the fresher, healthier food tends to be more expensive. Also think about how important it is to advocate on behalf of healthy school lunches for all kids, and especially for those for whom it may be their only meal.

(Note: Most of the free and reduced lunch funding comes from the federal level, with the rest made up by state and local dollars.  To qualify for reduced-price lunches, a family of four must make no more than $40,793. For free lunches, the income threshold is $28,665.)

A new Congress comes in January but the current Congress has work to do.  Our children are waiting for us to meet our commitments to them.  All they are asking for is a healthy meal, a nurturing environment, and a solid education.  Surely we can deliver!

Let’s start with a healthy meal.  Our current Congressmen have returned to Washington this week with lots on their plate (pun intended!).  Beyond the important economic issues that dominate the airwaves is the equally important issue of reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act.  Almost 1.3 million Georgia Children depend on this for school lunches and other meals.  Your Congressman in the U.S. House needs to hear from you about getting this done by December 31.

Kids also need quality care while Mom and Dad work and early education programs to help them get ready to read.  The federal appropriations bill can ensure that 300,000 little ones get the continuing benefit of Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Early Learning Challenge Grants.  Add this to your talking points with your Congressmen.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

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