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‘We know that children who are hungry cannot learn’: Notes on the N.C. Child Hunger Leaders Conference

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The Carolina Hunger Initiative hosted its 12th annual N.C. Child Hunger Leaders Conference last week in Chapel Hill at the UNC Friday Conference Center.

Courtesy of Carolina Hunger Initiative.

The day was filled with child nutrition champions — those working in school districts and at the state level, advocates, and nonprofits, all who are dedicated to helping curb child hunger.

Presenters included Lynn Harvey, senior director of the Office of School Nutrition at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, who gave updated numbers on the current school meal debt in North Carolina.

“You may recall that in November we recorded that level of unpaid school meal debt at $1.3 million,” she said. “Well, at the end of December, that figure escalated to a little over $3.1 million dollars.”

Carolina Hunger Initiative said the day was to gather child hunger leaders “who are fighting across the state to make sure kids have access to the nutrition they need to thrive.”

Speakers also included regional teachers of the year, who got up to tell their own stories of child hunger, whether that was witnessing it in their profession or being part of the free-and-reduced lunch system growing up.

Dr. Eric Cunningham, superintendent of Halifax County Schools, spoke about his district’s Greenleaf Farm, and how they are helping connect students to food, replacing ‘farm to table’ with ‘labor to table.’ He said more than 105 students have been able to ‘earn while they learn’ at Greenleaf Farm.

The North Carolina Alliance for Health presented their campaign School Meals for All N.C., which advocates for every public school student to have access to breakfast and lunch at no cost to their families. A focus of universal free lunch was echoed throughout the day by those in the room.

The full agenda for the day can be found here. Sponsors of the event included No Kid Hungry, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC, and the UNC Nutrition Research Institute.

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.