City schools serve up supper program

Baltimore school officials introduced Wednesday a food and nutrition initiative that will provide meals to at-risk children in after-school programs across the district next year.

During a news briefing and kitchen tour at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, officials presented the new Supper Program, in which students at five Baltimore high schools will have the opportunity to further their culinary degrees as they prepare and distribute about 2,000 meals a week to elementary and middle- school children.

"These meals are going to children who don't have a place to have supper every day," said Anthony Geraci, director of city schools' food and nutrition. The after-school programs that will be served are those that have more than 50 percent of students enrolled in or eligible for the free or reduced-price meals program.

The pilot program began this month at Carver, as well as at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Forest Park High School, Edmondson-Westside High School and the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences. The pilot will end in June, and the program will expand to other schools in the district in the fall.

The city school board voted in April to provide $250,000 in startup funds to pilot the program. However, the program will eventually fund itself through reimbursements the city will receive from the state for each meal prepared.

Schools CEO Andres Alonso lauded the program as a complement to the school system's other food and nutrition projects. The school system also grows vegetables on 5 acres in Catonsville, and the crops will be used for the meals, Geraci said.

"What happens with our nutrition in our schools changes the culture of our schools," Alonso said.

Geraci said the program was the essence of "social entrepreneurship." In addition to helping their peers, the culinary arts students who sign on will also be eligible to complete their chef certification.

As Lashawna Brown prepared ham-and-cheese sandwiches and filled small cups with lettuce and applesauce in the Carver kitchen Wednesday, she said she didn't join the program just because she wants to be an executive chef. She likes the idea of students at Hilton Elementary, which Carver will serve, possibly having their first healthful meal that day, she said.

"I feel like I'm making a difference," said Brown, who is a 10th-grade culinary arts student at Carver. "I want the little kids to have food."

Baltimore's recently appointed "food czar," Holly Freishtat, attended the briefing Wednesday and said she looks forward to partnering with city schools in her new role promoting healthful eating.

"My role is to provide access to healthy, affordable food to the city and that starts with our youth," she said.