By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Bonamici touts healthy meals for kids

Rockne Roll/News-Register##Rep. Suzanne Bonamici  hands a plate of nachos to 7-year-old Emma LaRon at Newby Elementary School during the summer lunch program. Bonamici, who visited Tuesday, said she supports healthful meals.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Rep. Suzanne Bonamici hands a plate of nachos to 7-year-old Emma LaRon at Newby Elementary School during the summer lunch program. Bonamici, who visited Tuesday, said she supports healthful meals.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##U.S. Rep Suzanne Bonamici discusses the free summer lunch program with cook Marla Allen at the Newby School on Tuesday, July 19.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##U.S. Rep Suzanne Bonamici discusses the free summer lunch program with cook Marla Allen at the Newby School on Tuesday, July 19.

Bonamici donned gloves and an apron to help cooks Marla Allen and Sarah Gash serve nachos, salsa, fruit, vegetables and milk at Newby Elementary School.

Allen, who works at Patton Middle School during the academic year, told the congresswoman children enjoy eating at school. “They especially like having hot meals,” she said.

Youngsters confirmed that with smiles as the accepted their trays of food. The nachos were pretty good, they said, and so were the baby carrots, broccoli and pineapple. 

Newby is one of several sites in McMinnville and across Yamhill County offering free meals to those 18 and younger this summer as part of the federal food program.

“Giving kids access to healthy food makes so much sense,” Bonamici said during a conversation with Cyndi Hiatt-Henry, director of nutrition services for the McMinnville School District.

Hiatt-Henry told her McMinnville’s summer and year-round food programs also aim to educate children about healthful eating habits. In addition, she said, they promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables, including those sourced from local farmers.

When children’s hunger is satisfied, they can concentrate on learning, Bonamici noted. “They’re healthier and have a better chance at succeeding in life,” she said.

And while food programs cost the federal government, the money is well-spent, she said. By breaking the cycle of poverty now, she said, less government assistance will be needed later.

Bonamici, who serves on the House’s Education and the Workforce committee, said she has been working to maintain federal food programs.

In particular, she is fighting for the Community Eligibility Program — something very important to Hiatt-Henry and other McMinnville School District officials. It’s the program that enables McMinnville, Willamina and some other districts to serve free breakfasts and lunches to all students during the school year.

“Before, we had kids cry” when they couldn’t afford lunch,” Hiatt-Henry said. Now, “we never have a child go away hungry.”

Hiatt-Henry and Bonamici agreed that CEP is a huge benefit. Not only does it ensure children don’t go hungry, but it also removes the stigma of being too poor to buy a school lunch. It’s a great equalizer, the women said.

Since McMinnville initiated the program in the fall of 2014, participation in the school meal program has grown tremendously, Hiatt-Henry told the congresswoman.

Now about 70 percent of the district’s students eat at school. Even at Mac High, where students have the option of leaving campus for lunch, participation has almost doubled, she said. 

To qualify, districts must show that at least 40 percent of their students meet federal poverty guidelines. 

Republicans in Congress are pushing to increase the threshold to 60 percent. Bonamici is fighting to leave it unchanged.

“It’s a really good use of our resources,” she said. “Feeding kids is a good investment, a good place to put our federal dollars.”

Hiatt-Henry and McMinnville Superintendent Maryalice Russell are concerned about potential changes that could disrupt the program.

The evening before Bonamici’s visit, Russell told the school board about her recent visit to Washington, D.C. She spoke with national leaders and advocated for maintaining CEP eligibility at the 40 percent level.

Bonamici’s visit to Newby was one of several stops the congresswoman made in Yamhill County this week. She also visited several businesses.

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