Soapbox

Time to act on Sacramento school kitchen to feed students’ brains

Esparto Unified School District food service supervisor Stacie Velazquez shows off some of her fresh produce in 2013. Some want Sacramento City Unified Schools to build a central kitchen to increase local, fresh food.
Esparto Unified School District food service supervisor Stacie Velazquez shows off some of her fresh produce in 2013. Some want Sacramento City Unified Schools to build a central kitchen to increase local, fresh food. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento City Unified School District trustees have before them a tremendous opportunity to adhere to the will of their voters, and model a gold standard for student health and nutrition.

In 2012, district voters overwhelmingly supported Measure R, a bond measure that, among other things, called for a central kitchen that can provide locally sourced, nutritious meals in a cost-effective way. It is time to make good on this commitment and break ground on a central kitchen.

The importance of proper nutrition for learning is scientifically proven. Children simply cannot absorb and retain information without basic brain food; research going back to the 1950s proves that children who eat breakfast consistently perform better than those that don’t. Unfortunately, many children who attend Sacramento city schools still have limited access to the essential fuel for their brains.

Locally, the problem is especially dire. According to a study funded by the California Endowment, 23 percent of south Sacramento residents are considered woefully underserved. Research has shown that food disparities and resulting health complications disproportionately afflict low-income communities of color. Limited access to healthy, affordable food is an unfortunate recipe for lower student achievement.

A $40 million central kitchen provides an opportunity to buck this troubling trend. Measure R included a specific list of projects to improve students’ health, including the kitchen. Almost four years later, the district has made little progress toward accomplishing this mandate.

The Elk Grove Unified School District boasts a central kitchen that makes 55,000 meals a day to feed students at 63 schools. At Natomas Unified School District, the central kitchen serves 7,000 to 8,000 meals a day. Twin Rivers Unified School District is creating one as well.

Our district serves almost 50,000 meals a day. More than 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, and almost 70 percent eat as many as three meals a day at school.

A central kitchen has the potential to transform school nutrition for decades. We must make it a priority. Our communities are waiting and our children are hungry for leadership to turn this vision into reality.

Patrick Kennedy, co-chairman of the Measure R campaign committee, is a Sacramento County supervisor and can be contacted at kennedyp@saccounty.net. Jessie Ryan is a Sacramento City Unified School District trustee and can be contacted at jessie-ryan@scusd.edu.

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