NCPCN aims for a better school lunch

Eat Out For Good

In Buzz, July/August 2019 by Jane PorterLeave a Comment

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This September, dine out and raise money to support school meals.

A five dollar lunch is a pretty good deal but chipping in five dollars to support students eating lunch at Wake County schools is a great one.

Through the month of September, around 100 restaurants across Raleigh and Wake County will offer the option for customers to add five dollars to their bills in order to raise money for the North Carolina Partnership for Child Nutrition (NCPCN), a nonprofit with the goal of ensuring every child in the county chooses to eat a nutritious meal at school. Look for “Support School Meals” cards in participating restaurants explaining NCPCN’s mission or special menu items that add five dollars to the cause.

“Every restaurant might do it a little differently,” explains NCPCN president and founder Steve Mangano, a Raleigh resident, foodie and entrepreneur whose two children attend Wake County public schools.

Mangano started NCPCN with a group of local partners around a shared vision of students (and teachers, administrators and other staff) opting to buy lunches from their school’s cafeterias during the school day. Accomplishing that goal, Mangano says, would create other positive outcomes for students including, potentially, universal free breakfast, innovative meal programs and opportunities to engage with each other through food.

“If eating lunch at school becomes the default, you start to break down cultural barriers around that,” Mangano says. “So now, it’s not only some kids who are eating lunch at school, but everyone is. You have more opportunities for interactions, you have opportunities for kids not to feel stigmatized. A lot of times kids who are on free or reduced lunch choose not to eat because they’re embarrassed. It also puts more money back into the school system.”

As North Carolina doesn’t allocate money for school meals in its state budget, advocacy nonprofits such as No Kid Hungry and others have worked for decades to ensure students aren’t going hungry in schools. And while No Kid Hungry and other private sector and nonprofit organizations, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and the North Carolina Alliance for Health, are important partners in what NCPCN hopes to accomplish, Mangano says he saw a need for on-the-ground ways to educate parents and other stakeholders about the importance of strong school nutrition programs

Currently, school lunch participation rates in Wake County are below 50 percent; NCPCN wants to bring those rates to above 70 percent. To reach this goal, the nonprofit hopes to raise enough money in September to hire an executive director, complete a study from a food insight group outlining national best practices for school lunch participation and, finally, launch a pilot program in one school in Wake that would implement changes to increase school lunch participation that, potentially, could be replicated on the county and state levels in the future.

The nonprofit also plans to work with WCPSS Child Nutrition Services director Paula De Lucca to help her achieve the goal of making Wake County’s child nutrition program one of the top in the country.

“A pilot project in one of our schools would be a way of proving the practicality of this great idea,” says Christine Kushner, a Wake County school board member and advisor to the NCPCN board of directors. “If more students participated in school meals, that’s a benefit to active parents, giving them one less thing to worry about, as their student gets breakfast and/or lunch with their classmates at school.”

So, how can you chip in?

Simply check out NCPCN’s website for a list of participating local restaurants, cafés, breweries, confectionaries and other businesses. In September, whenever you dine or make a purchase in one, you’ll have the option of adding five dollars to your bill—and that’s it—that’s all you have to do!

“We’re focused on Wake County first, and whatever we accomplish in Wake, we can replicate in other areas,” Mangano says. “It’s hopefully this incremental thing where, if we have enough people contributing five dollars, we’ll get to an amount that will allow us to make a change.”

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