Hawaiʻi Appleseed is working with its partners in the education community to increase participation in school breakfast programs in Hawaiʻi, including Breakfast After the Bell, to ensure that every hungry child is able to get a nutritious breakfast at school.

A hungry child can’t learn. Sadly, many of Hawaiʻi’s families can’t afford to provide their children with a healthy breakfast every morning. Even families that are financially stable often have such busy schedules that they find it challenging to sit down with their children for a good breakfast in the morning, even though students who skip breakfast have a harder time learning.

One way to ensure that our children are ready to learn every morning is by participating in the federal School Breakfast Program. When students eat school breakfast, they have better nutrition and lower rates of obesity, as well as improved attendance, behavior and grades. School breakfast programs have increased high school graduation rates by as much as 20%.

Hawaiʻi can do more to take advantage of the benefits of school breakfast. Only 43% of children who participate in free or reduced-price lunch programs make good use of school breakfast programs — the fifth-lowest rate in the country. If just 70% of kids in Hawaiʻi were to participate in the program, 18,000 more children would be able to gain the benefits of school breakfast, resulting in an additional $4.78 million per year in federal funds.

How Can We Improve School Breakfast in Hawaiʻi

There are proven ways to boost school breakfast participation. One of the best is moving breakfast after the first bell so that everyone can take advantage of breakfast programs, even if they’re unable to get to school early. Breakfast after the bell programs have led to better test scores, attendance, and behavior in over 20 states, in school districts as large as Los Angeles and New York City.

Another effective method of increasing school breakfast participation is community eligibility, which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch free of charge to all students, streamlining the process. Not only does this make it easier for students and their families to access meals, but it also helps schools by eliminating the cost and administrative burden of processing school meal applications. With just over half of Hawaiʻi’s students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, over a quarter of our state’s schools qualify for community eligibility provision (CEP). Hawaiʻi Department of Public Schools has expanded its CEP pilot program from 7 to 30 public schools during the 2016-7 school year. This expansion will help more children gain access to school meals.

The returns on investing in school breakfast are clear: better academic performance for our children, fewer behavioral problems for our teachers to handle, relief for struggling and busy families in the mornings, and millions more federal dollars coming to our state.

Hawaiʻi Appleseed also works to ensure families and low-income people in Hawaiʻi have access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  15 percent of households in Hawaiʻi struggle to put food on the table, and social safety net programs like SNAP help ensure that they can stay afloat.

SNAP makes a huge difference in lifting people out of poverty in Hawaiʻi. In 2012, 16% of recipient households avoided poverty thanks to SNAP — the 11st-largest figure in the country. In addition, 23% of recipient households received enough SNAP benefits to avoid deep poverty.  In addition, SNAP results in profound and lasting benefits to communities by helping families to access nutritious foods.

Yet, thousands of struggling families who are eligible for the program do not take advantage of these benefits. In fact, Hawaiʻi ranks 49th in the country for SNAP participation — nearly 40% of eligible households are not enrolled, causing our residents to miss out on $210 million in benefits. If SNAP participation in Hawaiʻi were increased to the national average of 79%, an additional 56,700 individuals would receive $98 million in benefits annually, resulting in $377 million in economic activity over the year.

Hawaiʻi Appleseed, along with its local nonprofit partners, hopes to engage the local community by informing them of these benefits and encouraging them to participate in the program.