CNMI seeks $2.4M free meal grant for summer

»PSS, DCCA designated lead agencies in securing USDA grant
Students and out-of-school youths may be able to access free or discounted school meals starting next summer if the CNMI succeeds in securing a new federal grant amounting to $2.45 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Summer Food Service Program for Children is authorized by Section 13 of the National School Lunch Act of 1946. It was authorized on Dec. 31, 2010, under the Healthy, Hungry-free Kids Act and funds are available to initiate, maintain, and expand a nonprofit food service program for children during summer.

It is projected to allow 50 percent or more of school children to receive free or a reduced-price school meals.

Last July 3, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial thanked USDA regional director Allen Ng for giving the Commonwealth an opportunity to explore the grant and named Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan and Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao as the authorized persons to apply for and implement the grant under the Summer Food Service Program within the CNMI Nutrition Assistance Grant.

Fitial believes that the joint PSS-DCCA effort will make the program more efficient in reaching out to the CNMI’s children.

Faisao told Saipan Tribune yesterday that there are an estimated 15,247 children who may benefit from the program in the summer of 2013-from June to August-once the federal grant is secured.

Faisao also wrote Sablan on July 5 reiterating DCCA’s commitment to this endeavor.

The Public School System’s Food and Nutrition Services program operates under a nutrition assistance grant from USDA. Included in the FNS program is the Child Nutrition Program, which serves over 15,000 meals each day to almost 11,000 public school and private school students.

Seven catering companies are contracted to provide meals to students on Saipan, Rota, and Tinian and the menus are formulated following USDA guidelines for nutritional content and were designed by the PSS nutritionist in collaboration with food vendors.

Based on the PSS facts and figures for school year 2011-2012, PSS has a total of 10,508 enrollees and 57 percent of them-5,971 students-are eligible for the free meals. The rest are subsidized; they buy the meal for a small sum.

The USDA Summer Food Service Program for Children, according to Faisao, was created to help fill the gap of food availability by ensuring that children in low-income areas continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer months.

He said a memorandum of understanding between PSS and DCCA has to be executed to begin the CNMI’s application to the grant, the first for the Commonwealth. DCCA runs the Division of Youth Services, which serves 300 at-risk youths on Saipan, 60 on Tinian, and 80 on Rota.

“The joint designation authorizes our collaborative effort to include a state plan for summer food service program. .It is imperative to continue the availability of nutritious meal beyond the academic school year to maintain the healthy wellbeing of students and support proper developmental needs. This program prevents nutritional deficiencies that impact the ability to learn,” added Faisao.

By Moneth Deposa

Moneth G. Deposa | Reporter

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